January 2013 snow

Snow in an Exeter street in December 2010

As forecast, heavy snow caused disruption in many areas of the UK in mid January

The snowy weather persisted for around 10 days, making it the most widespread and prolonged snowfall in the UK since the 'Big Freeze' of November and December 2010.

During this time, government organisations, businesses and the public relied on the accurate forecasts and weather warnings from the Met Office so they could plan for what's ahead.

During the cold spell our website served millions of pages every day, peaking on the 17 January when Met Office web pages were viewed over four million times. In addition our apps were viewed a total of 3.7 million times on the 20th January alone, nearly four times more than normal.

Our social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTubeGoogle+ and the  news blog also helped keep nine million people informed so that they could plan, prepare and protect themselves from the impacts of the snow, ice and cold.

Our social content was shared by a large number of organisations, including the Scottish Government, Highways Agency, Heathrow Airport and the Prime Minister who tweeted "For #snow updates this weekend - follow @WinterHighways and @MetOffice #FF".

Snowy weather timeline

"Thanks to all involved in the work the Met Office did for this winter spell. The forecasts were excellent, very accurate and much appreciated."

Steve Barnes, Cabinet Office

The Met Office identified the switch from the milder weather of early January to much colder and potentially snowy conditions over a week before the first spell of snow arrived in northern Britain on the 14th and 15th of January, publishing a press releaseblog and video about the colder weather to come and its causes around five days in advance.

This advance warning allowed agencies to put plans in place to minimise the risk of disruption. Throughout, the message to 'be prepared' to change your plans was widely communicated and acted upon, with travel providers such as rail operators, Heathrow airport, and highways agencies and authorities implementing contingency plans throughout the period.

Forecasting snow, and accurately predicting where it will fall, poses a tough challenge for forecasters. The sheer number of snowfall events over a prolonged period of severe weather created a very busy time for our weather experts.

To give an idea of how we've done over this time, here's a timeline of the severe weather and our assessment of how we've done.

Met Office January snow timeline
12-13 JanuaryChange to colder weather, rain across the South cleared on Saturday night to leave some icy surfaces. Achieved
14-15 JanuarySnowfall occurred across eastern Scotland and North and East of England. Up to 10 cm fell in some places by the end of Tuesday. Achieved
18 JanuaryAtlantic weather system brought widespread snow to many parts of the country as it battled to displace the cold air. Up to 26 cm of snow was recorded in Wales and 5-10 cm reported widely. An amber warning was issued for parts of Wales, western England, the Midlands and central and southern England, as well as Northern Ireland. In these areas accumulations of 10 to 15 cm were expected, with 20 cm or more over the hills on the 16 th. This was updated on the 17 th to include a red warning for upland parts of southern Wales where accumulations of 10 to 15 cm were expected with up to 30 cm possible over the hills with blizzard conditions likely. Achieved
20 JanuaryFurther snow across London, south east England and East Anglia. Icy conditions in many areas with accurate forecasts and warnings provided. Achieved
21 JanuaryHeavy snow and strong winds over north east England and Eastern Scotland. Significant snow drifts over hills. Parts of Northern Ireland also affected by heavy snow. Amber warnings were issued ahead of the snowfall. Achieved
22-23 JanuaryAnother battle between the cold air and milder Atlantic air across south east Wales and South west England led to further heavy snow in places. Hail and ice also caused problems. Accurate forecasts and warnings were issued Achieved
23 JanuaryBands of heavy snow showers re-activated across parts of south west Wales and south west England causing local disruption. Although snow showers were forecast, the snow was more prolonged and more widespread than initially expected. Failure
25-26 JanuaryWidespread snow from the midlands moved northwards before an Atlantic weather system finally displaced the cold air. Up to 20 cm of snow fell in places with drifting before the snow died out and turned to rain. Amber warnings for the snow were issued to help regions plan and prepare for the snow. Achieved
26-27 January

Residual ice and slush caused some disruption before the thaw set in.

Achieved

How much snow fell

Visible satellite image of the snow over the UK on Saturday 26 January Visible satellite image of the snow over the UK on Saturday 26 January The deepest snow was 30 cm recorded at Little Rissington in Gloucestershire, but snow was recorded widely throughout the week across many parts of the UK, apart from the far south west of England.

LocationAreaElevationSnow depth (cm)
Little Rissington Gloucestershire 21030
Aboyne Aberdeenshire 14027
Lough Fea Londonderry 22527
Redesdale Camp Northumberland 21126
SennybridgePowys30726
Albemarle Northumberland 14223
Dunkeswell AerodromeDevon 25221
SpadeadamCumbria 28521
Loftus Cleveland 15818
Aviemore Inverness-Shire 22816
Filton Avon 5916
Liscombe Somerset 34816
Wittering Cambridgeshire 7316
Bingley West Yorkshire 26215
Eskdalemuir Dumfriesshire 23615

How we helped

"The weather forecasts that we have had from the Met Office over the last few days have been 100% accurate in every regard - superb!"

AJ Astley-Jones, Senior Emergency Planning Officer at South Gloucestershire Council

Met Office weather warnings helped people plan, prepare and protect themselves and others from the impacts of severe weather, whilst our forecasts enabled our customers to make effective plans and mitigate risks to their businesses. 

Phil Evans, Met Office Director of Government Services, said: "Based on the forecasts and warnings from the Met Office, local councils, emergency services and highways authorities have been working around the clock to minimise the impacts of today's heavy snow.

"For example, highways authorities have deployed gritters and snow clearing equipment across the road network, Heathrow Airport has activated their snow plan to minimise disruption to passengers and Age UK have had volunteers out helping older people across the country."

Steve Crosthwaite, head of the Highways Agency's National Traffic Operations Centre, said: "We work closely with the Met Office when making our operational decisions to help keep people moving and safe in this winter weather. We have already covered more than one million miles and we will carry on treating the network whenever there is a risk of ice or snow."

Age UK Director General Michelle Mitchell: "We urge older people to take the Met Office warning very seriously and do everything they can to protect themselves from the cold. It's really important older people keep warm and protect themselves from the cold."

In response to our accurate and timely forecasts we received the following feedback from a number of our customers including:

AJ Astley-Jones, Senior Emergency Planning Officer at South Gloucestershire Council said: "The weather forecasts that we have had from the Met Office over the last few days have been 100% accurate in every regard - superb!"

Steve Barnes, Cabinet Office said "Thanks to all involved in the work the Met Office did for this winter spell. The forecasts were excellent, very accurate and much appreciated."

By thinking ahead we can all be better prepared for severe weather. Throughout the winter, the Met Office works with agencies across the UK to help keep the country safe, well and on the move.

Last updated: 14 February 2013