Rain (AM and PM) 4° London Hi 6°C / Lo 3°C

Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past

By Charles Onians

Britain's winter ends tomorrow with further indications of a striking environmental change: snow is starting to disappear from our lives.

Britain's winter ends tomorrow with further indications of a striking environmental change: snow is starting to disappear from our lives.

Sledges, snowmen, snowballs and the excitement of waking to find that the stuff has settled outside are all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain's culture, as warmer winters - which scientists are attributing to global climate change - produce not only fewer white Christmases, but fewer white Januaries and Februaries.

The first two months of 2000 were virtually free of significant snowfall in much of lowland Britain, and December brought only moderate snowfall in the South-east. It is the continuation of a trend that has been increasingly visible in the past 15 years: in the south of England, for instance, from 1970 to 1995 snow and sleet fell for an average of 3.7 days, while from 1988 to 1995 the average was 0.7 days. London's last substantial snowfall was in February 1991.

Global warming, the heating of the atmosphere by increased amounts of industrial gases, is now accepted as a reality by the international community. Average temperatures in Britain were nearly 0.6°C higher in the Nineties than in 1960-90, and it is estimated that they will increase by 0.2C every decade over the coming century. Eight of the 10 hottest years on record occurred in the Nineties.

However, the warming is so far manifesting itself more in winters which are less cold than in much hotter summers. According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become "a very rare and exciting event".

"Children just aren't going to know what snow is," he said.

The effects of snow-free winter in Britain are already becoming apparent. This year, for the first time ever, Hamleys, Britain's biggest toyshop, had no sledges on display in its Regent Street store. "It was a bit of a first," a spokesperson said.

Fen skating, once a popular sport on the fields of East Anglia, now takes place on indoor artificial rinks. Malcolm Robinson, of the Fenland Indoor Speed Skating Club in Peterborough, says they have not skated outside since 1997. "As a boy, I can remember being on ice most winters. Now it's few and far between," he said.

Michael Jeacock, a Cambridgeshire local historian, added that a generation was growing up "without experiencing one of the greatest joys and privileges of living in this part of the world - open-air skating".

Warmer winters have significant environmental and economic implications, and a wide range of research indicates that pests and plant diseases, usually killed back by sharp frosts, are likely to flourish. But very little research has been done on the cultural implications of climate change - into the possibility, for example, that our notion of Christmas might have to shift.

Professor Jarich Oosten, an anthropologist at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, says that even if we no longer see snow, it will remain culturally important.

"We don't really have wolves in Europe any more, but they are still an important part of our culture and everyone knows what they look like," he said.

David Parker, at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Berkshire, says ultimately, British children could have only virtual experience of snow. Via the internet, they might wonder at polar scenes - or eventually "feel" virtual cold.

Heavy snow will return occasionally, says Dr Viner, but when it does we will be unprepared. "We're really going to get caught out. Snow will probably cause chaos in 20 years time," he said.

The chances are certainly now stacked against the sortof heavy snowfall in cities that inspired Impressionist painters, such as Sisley, and the 19th century poet laureate Robert Bridges, who wrote in "London Snow" of it, "stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying".

Not any more, it seems.

Post a Comment

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

Offensive or abusive comments will be removed and your IP logged and may be used to prevent further submission. In submitting a comment to the site, you agree to be bound by the Independent Minds Terms of Service.


Calling Charles Onians
[info]alexjc38 wrote:
Sunday, 27 December 2009 at 09:53 pm (UTC)
Hello? Charles Onians in 2000? Don't ask me to explain but I'm posting this back to you via a time warp from December 2009. Yes, the future! You probably won't believe me and will think I'm mad or joking, but get this. Britain is suffering its second extremely cold winter in a row - we have enough snow, ice, frost and freezing fog to cobble dogs with (whatever that means.) Far from being "a very rare and exciting event", snowfall has become a major hazard in this country twice this past year - and we haven't even got to February 2010 yet. Also (again you will probably think I'm joking) but the CRU has just become a liability to climate science - leaked e-mails and files have revealed a web of deceit and manipulation that threatens to undermine the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming itself. I urge you to pull this article immediately, as it will become a laughing stock in years to come. Charles? Hello? Hello? ... Rats, I'm probably too late.
Re: Calling Charles Onians
[info]david_fta wrote:
Wednesday, 30 December 2009 at 05:07 am (UTC)
Perhaps, in 2000, Charles was unaware that Chinese industrial expansion, fuelled by its high-sulphur domestic coal, would unleash a sulphidic assault on the north-east Asian environment that would substantially counter northern hemisphere warming with its enhancement of north temperate latitude albedo, before falling out of the sky as acid rain.

Perhaps Charles couldn't foresee increased Arctic melting and consequent suppression of the Gulf Stream.

I wonder what Carribean storm seasons will be like over the next few years?

[info]freethinkin wrote:
Monday, 28 December 2009 at 12:31 am (UTC)
Wow. An article that contains the words "climate change" and there aren't 1000 responses from wild-eyed Deniers? What's going on? Have they lost the faith?

[info]rhinob wrote:
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 at 11:25 am (UTC)
Don't need to say a thing....the sun it doing alllll the talking. hehehehe....love it.
outrageous...you forgot to mention the polar bears!
[info]kingkp wrote:
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 at 12:23 pm (UTC)
This is outrageous! What about the polar bears! Every day a little polar bear is dying because of the evils of man-made global warming. This has to stop. There's not even a mention of the poor cuddly little blighters in the comments....this can't go on
[info]turboblocke wrote:
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 at 01:37 pm (UTC)
Interestingly this prediction from the article has come true a bit early:"Heavy snow will return occasionally, says Dr Viner, but when it does we will be unprepared. "We're really going to get caught out. Snow will probably cause chaos in 20 years time," he said."
How embarrassing for all concerned.
[info]muckle10 wrote:
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 at 05:04 pm (UTC)
Who needs 'virtual' snow when the real stuff is all around the country.
"Virtual Cold"
[info]fberg_david wrote:
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 at 08:16 pm (UTC)
An interesting concept, but one I highly doubt will be necessary. But I won't go the other way and say that "virtual warmth" will be needed either; real warmth will be really necessary when the next Little Ice Age hits.
A Most Inconveniet Climatic Misbehaviour
[info]vanzetti69 wrote:
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 at 09:36 pm (UTC)
Well Charlie, you were a silly boy then weren't you?! will you and your fellow orthodoxy-regurgitators hang your heads in shame in an attempt to retain a modicum of self-respect and credibility....? or will you continue to take a leaf out of al gore's leaflet... aptly embellished with substantive rigorous CRU climate science....
I'm not going to hold my breath......

Article Archive

Day In a Page

Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat

Select date