Freak winter marks 1947 down in history
WITH reports of global warming, the weather forecasts at the moment talk of unseasonable warm weather for this time of year. One man recently commented to me that at the rate we are going, Soham would soon be a seaside resort. Of course, along with the w
WITH reports of global warming, the weather forecasts at the moment talk of unseasonable warm weather for this time of year.
One man recently commented to me that at the rate we are going, Soham would soon be a seaside resort. Of course, along with the weather, water, drainage and navigation have been local topics of conversation for centuries. But 60 years ago, the winter of 1947 produced a number of freak weather conditions that has set it down in the history records.
Whilst many are aware of the extensive flooding that took place in the Fens in March 1947, the background and cause of this devastation are just as interesting and catastrophic as the floods themselves. It should also be pointed out that this was not just a localised incident but a situation that affected the entire country.
Before Christmas of 1946, and again in the first week of January 1947, there had been two cold spells across the country, then the weather became 'unseasonably mild'.
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Britain was still in the grip of rationing and the introduction of bread and potato rationing in early 1947, plus the reduction in the meat and milk allowances during the course of the year, meant that times were harsh. In early January 1947, nobody expected that this winter would become the snowiest since 1814 and among the coldest on record.
From January 22 until March, snow fell every day somewhere in the UK. The temperatures were so cold that the snow accumulated and the high winds in February resulted in drifts of more than five metres which blocked roads and railways.
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Remote houses and villages were left entirely cut off for weeks on end, with only airlifted supplies from the armed services to survive. These armed services personnel and the many prisoners-of-war still here also helped to clear transport routes across the country.
February 1947 was the coldest February recorded and the second coldest month of the last century (January 1963 being the coldest).
Another unusual feature of February 1947 was the lack of sunshine particularly in the Midlands and south of England, with only 22 out of 28 days in the month recording any sun at all.
This cloud cover helped the temperatures from falling any further, with the mean monthly maximum temperature of 0.5C. When the skies did clear the thermometer gauges plunged, a minimum of -21C was recorded at Woburn early on the 28th February. It was so cold that icebergs were seen off the coast of Norfolk and the sea froze over Margate
Local weather reports for Mildenhall show that the snow started falling here on January 24, 1947 and from then until March 12, there were only two days when there was no snow lying on the ground. If February had been a hard month March was even worse.
The legacy of war had produced fuel shortages and the cold weather had exacerbated the problem, industry was coming to a shuddering halt and power was switched of for long periods of time throughout Britain.
On March 4, 5, 6, there was heavy snowfall over most of England and Wales and the high winds caused drifting.
Then on March 10, mild air with a temperature of 7-10C edged into the south west bringing rain and a rapid thaw. The ground was still frozen hard after so many weeks of frost. The melting snow could not soak into the ground and surface water accumulated running into rivers and streams.
The warm air spread northwards and eastwards. Meltwater from the Welsh mountains poured into the Rivers Wye and Severn, flooding Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, rivers in the Midlands burst their banks and by Friday, March 14 the River Cam had flooded Cambridge and the low lying areas of Waterbeach.
At this point the River Great Ouse was still contained in the wash banks, but not for much longer.
INFO: If you have any memories or photograps of the 1947 floods in the Ely area, we would love to hear from you.
Contact us on 01353 667831 and ask for Lynne Turner or Debbie Davies or email: firstname.lastname@example.org