What has caused all the snow to fall this winter in the UK – climate change?

Croydon snow by Cami

As I returned from a Southern Hemisphere holiday, where temperatures were nearly 40 degrees C, I was shocked by the unusually cold weather in the UK. The winters in the UK are usually much milder than this as we all know, so what is going on with the weather? If you don’t know already, read on to find out and to read 10 top tips on driving safely during the snow period.

In most winters, especially in the past 20 years or so, winds reaching the UK normally came from the south-west. This meant the air had travelled over the relatively warm Atlantic and we got mild conditions in the UK. However, over the past three weeks the Atlantic air has been ‘blocked’ and cold air has been flowing down from the Arctic or the cold winter landmass of Europe (Met Office).

Reason for snow in UK-graphic
Diagram showing the reason for the cold weather
– courtesy of the Met Office

Has climate change a role to play on this sudden change on wind patterns?

The Met Office has said that 2009 as a whole was the 14th-warmest on record (since 1914) in the UK. This above average temperature trend was reflected globally, with 2009 being the fifth warmest year on the global record (since 1850). However, the current cold weather in the UK is part of the normal regional variations that take place in the winter season. It doesn’t tell us anything about climate change, which has to be looked at in a global context and over longer periods of time.

The Environment Transport Association – ETA has issued advice and top tips to their members to take extra care whilst driving over the next few days. They said they have been inundated with calls from members who have experienced problems because of the weather.

Their advice is: only use your car if it is absolutely necessary and, if you have to drive somewhere, please read the following tips to help your make your journeys safer.

ETA top ten tips for driving in snow and ice

  1. Consider investing in snow chains for your car tyres. They are quick to fit and cost £27.99 You can buy a set by following this link.
  2. In slippery driving conditions avoid sudden acceleration and braking – driving as smoothly as possible will make it less likely that you slide and return better fuel economy, too. If you start to skid, gently lift your foot off the accelerator and steer into the slide.
  3. Keep an 'emergency bag' in your boot containing two blankets, a bottle of water and some non-perishable, high-energy food such as chocolate.
  4. Ensure your mobile phone is fully charged and that the number of your breakdown recovery service is stored in the memory. A wind-up emergency phone charger for your mobile costs £9.45 and is available to buy here.
  5. It's important you can see and be seen so take time to remove any snow and ice from your vehicle's windows, headlights, brake lights and indicators.
  6. Try to avoid leaving your car unused for days at a time during cold weather as batteries can run flat.
  7. Try to keep a shovel in your car so that you can dig yourself out of trouble.
  8. Breakdown cover: costs from just £24 – ensure you have cover in place.
  9. Listen to local weather forecasts as road conditions can change fast. If you find yourself stranded in your car in snowy conditions, call for assistance and unless you are at risk of being struck by other vehicles, stay where you are.
  10. Do not use cruise control in snowy or icy conditions.

My own top tip for the safety of pedestrians is: use a shovel and clear the snow off the pavement outside your own house please. I remember the 1980s when it used to snow more often in the winter in the UK and everybody, including shop owners in the town centre, used to do this – clear up the snow in the front of their houses/shops and pile it up. All you would see was snow mounds which people walked around.

Visit www.cabi.org/environmentalimpact to access the over 1000 reports, including many on what is contributing to climate change.

Main photo: Snow in Croydon – by Camilla Barbosa-Jefferson

5 thoughts on “What has caused all the snow to fall this winter in the UK – climate change?

  1. aion kinah March 1, 2010 / 6:04 am

    Oh I love this post. You hit the nail on the head.

  2. collapsible water bottle June 12, 2010 / 11:13 am

    Winter is such a beautiful season, and when it snows, I love to travel into the wild just to relax and listen to the silence. This piece s a good one for all of us out there who venture out in the snow!

  3. Tractor Tire Chains July 22, 2010 / 7:04 pm

    Hey, just dropping in to say thanks for the great info!
    I grew up in Florida so I had never even seen tire chains until I made the move out to California. I’m still not sure what I was thinking moving in the middle of winter! It by no means even crossed my mind that I may require tire chains. I totally forgot that hey, you will find mountains within the way. When I got there all the traffic was slowing down and everybody was pulling more than, I had no concept what was going on. Then I saw everyone putting their snow chains on. I didn’t have any of course, but fortunately there were vendors promoting and installing them correct there about the side from the road!

  4. Automatic Tire Chains July 23, 2010 / 1:39 am

    Thanks for the post!
    I grew up in Florida so I had by no means even seen tire chains until I made the move out to California. I don’t know why I moved out there within the middle of winter, wasn’t precisely a smart concept. I guess I ought to have paid more attention in geography class, then I would have known to buy tire chains so I could get more than the mountains on my way to CA! As soon as I got closer to CA and started heading up into the mountains, I observed that everyone ahead of me was pulling over. That’s when I noticed that there was a horde of individuals obtaining out tire chains and putting them on. I was lucky that there had been guys promoting additional chains on the side of the road otherwise I would have needed to turn around and find some elsewhere.

  5. truck rental August 16, 2010 / 10:48 am

    Love the “dig yourself out of trouble” advice! The winter is long gone, but the summer is here, and it is hotter then ever- any bright ideas on this matter? Loved the post!

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