Although the cold had subsided by mid-month, it reappeared with a fury in the past three days. This made December 2010 the coldest month in 100 years, according to Met Office data, and the coldest winter month since February 1986. The average temperature that month was 5 degrees Celsius lower than the 1971-2000 average.
The cold snap brought snow to parts of Britain for the first time since February 2009. It also caused problems for people who rely on ice for transport and commerce - especially farmers - and has put pressure on electricity supplies. In northern England, heavy rain caused flooding on roads and railways, while in Scotland, the flow of water into the North Sea from lochs (large bodies of water) increased dramatically.
December is generally considered the end of the summer season in Europe and signals the start of autumn. Many plants and animals prepare themselves for dormancy by dropping their leaves systemically to protect them from damage during the dormant period. However, some species, such as deciduous trees, will drop their leaves each year regardless of the weather conditions.
The month of December 2010 was the second-coldest in the history of meteorological records, just behind December 1816 when temperatures averaged 3 degrees Celsius below normal. The most severe winter on record occurred in Russia in 1933-34 when daytime temperatures fell to -45 degrees Celsius.
These were all part of a huge storm that swept across large parts of Europe.
December 2010 has also been verified as the coldest December in 120 years, since a monthly CET of -0.8 degrees Celsius was recorded in December 1890, and the second-coldest December since records began in 1659. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it was also a very cold month across much of North America.
How about 2011? So far it's been even colder than 2010 was. The National Snow and Ice Data Center reports that as of January 4th, 2011, the total ice cover on lakes and oceans worldwide is at a record high percentage.
Is this trend likely to continue? Probably yes. The NSIDC states that "The overall pattern for the next ten years (2011-2020) is for more cold winters like recent ones, with less variance between cold and not so cold years."
What causes cold winters? There are two factors that come into play here: the amount of solar energy that reaches Earth's surface and the amount of heat stored in the ocean. Less solar energy means that less heat is available to warm up our world. More energy means that we would need to find an alternative source of heat. Ocean heat content is another factor that can influence how cold or not cold a winter is. If the ocean heats up then it can release some of the heat that would normally go into melting snow and ice.
The winter of 2010 was also extremely cold, bringing heavy rain, record temperatures, transport mayhem, and school disruption to the United Kingdom. "You may also recall the unusually cold December of 2010, which was generally the coldest December in almost 100 years and had two significant snowfall outbreaks," Nicola added. The January-March period of 2010 has been called the country's worst winter since 1977.
It started off badly with an early ice storm that hit many parts of England. This was followed by more severe weather. In fact, it was one continuous day of storms: heavy rain, strong winds, and freezing temperatures that took many by surprise.
The UK is not used to seeing such low temperatures. That's because we usually get lots of sunshine during the winter months that keeps temperatures high. But not this year - cloud cover dominated the sky, keeping temperatures low and causing flooding.
The combination of heavy rain and strong winds caused chaos on the roads. Trains were unable to run on some lines due to levels of floodwater blocking tracks, while others were cancelled completely. Bus services were disrupted across large areas of the country.
In London, traffic lights were knocked out by wind gusts of up to 70mph. The city's tube network suffered major delays and cancellations due to signal failures. Flooding also caused problems for those trying to reach hospital appointments.
"It was evident that no one expected the 1947 winter to be harsh." Temperatures as high as 14 degrees Celsius were reported in certain locations at the start of January. Many people consider 1963 to be a remarkable winter, and this winter definitely stand out in the record book dating back to 1910. It was by far the snowiest winter on record for much of Canada and the United States, with more than 100 million dollars in damages caused by the snowstorms and ice storms.
The winter of 1947 was indeed terrible. Thousands of people were left homeless due to heavy snowfalls and severe cold. In some parts of Canada, temperatures stayed below zero for over six months! The winter of 1963 was not nearly as bad, but it still produced heavy snowfalls and low temperatures. More than half of Canada experienced severe weather during either of these winters.
These were not normal winters. They were part of a pattern called the "Big Freeze", which affected most of North America. From December 1946 to March 1947, large areas of Canada and the United States were frozen with snow up to a foot (30 cm) deep. Most rivers froze over, which is rare for this time of year. This is because there was enough snow accumulated during the previous season that the ground didn't thaw out before spring came.
The Big Freezes were so named because they brought about the disappearance of many animals from their usual range.
With an average temperature of 12 degrees, January was the coldest on record (the normal average was 31.1). January 1977 also established a monthly snowfall record of 30.3 inches (the normal was 6). The 1976-1977 winter also established a Tri-State snowfall record of 47.3 inches. However, those snow records were broken a year later.
The previous winter had been very mild with only half as much snow as normal. Why did we get such a extreme winter? The jet stream was far north, which caused problems for us. There were two major storms that contributed to the high damage totals. One storm went from east to west across Missouri and Illinois, dropping up to 18 inches of snow in some areas. The other storm stayed over the Mid-Atlantic and New England states, bringing heavy snowfalls and causing numerous accidents.
Cars didn't have heaters then so drivers would pour alcohol into the tank to keep them warm. This is how many highway deaths occurred each year until safety seats were required for children under 8 years old.
Winter 1976-1977 was not only the coldest but also the snowiest on record. At least 28 people died in Pennsylvania alone due to traffic accidents caused by the heavy snow. It was also reported that more than $100 million in damages occurred because of the bad weather.