Widespread heavy snow and icy conditions, 17-23 December 2009

Satellite image of snow-covered UK

23 December 2009

Background

From around mid-December, cold air from eastern Europe dominated the UK weather. This was to be the start of a cold spell which would continue up to the start of the Christmas period.

Widespread frost, ice and snow affected some areas.

  • The first significant snowfall occurred on the night of Thursday 17 December and into Friday 18 December.
  • Parts of south-east England, Yorkshire and north-east England were badly affected, with particularly deep snow in parts of East Anglia.

By the weekend of 19/20 December the cold air had spread across much of the North Atlantic, effectively surrounding the UK.

  • On Sunday 20 December heavy snow from the north-west affected western areas of Scotland, northern England, and Northern Ireland.
  • On Monday 21 December heavy snow affected southern areas of England during the late afternoon and evening, as milder air from the south mixed with the cold air already across the UK. Snow was particularly heavy during the evening rush hour in parts of Hampshire.
  • On Tuesday 22 December eastern areas of Scotland had frequent snow showers.

By Tuesday night less-cold conditions began to move into parts of south-west England. However, the wintry problems were far from over as rain fell onto frozen road surfaces leading to ice on many routes in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset.

Analysis chart valid 17 December 2009

Analysis chart valid 17 December 2009


Fig 1. Cold east to north-easterly winds had become established across the UK and a weather system brought the first significant snowfall of the cold spell to eastern areas of England.

Weather data

Many places had a few centimetres of snow and the table below lists the top- five snow depths for the period.

Top-five snow depths in centimetres
Location Depth (cm) Location Depth (cm)
0900, Friday 18 December 0900, Monday 21 December
Copley, Durham 16 Aviemore, Highland 20
Wattisham, Suffolk 12 Copley, Durham 17
Buntingford, Hertfordshire 12 Aberfeldy, Perth and Kinross 15
Cambridge Botanic Garden 11 Alston, Cumbria 13
Bank Newton, North Yorks/Alston, Cumbria 9 Lough Fea, Londonderry/Marham 11
0900, Saturday 19 December 0900, Tuesday 22 December
Cottesmore, Rutland 13 Aberfeldy, Perth and Kinross 17
Wittering, Cambs/Copley, Durham 12 Aviemore/Spadeadam, Cumbria 16
Cambridge Botanic Garden 11 Newton Rigg, Cumbria 15
Westgate, Durham/Marham 10 High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire 12
0900, Sunday 20 December  
Copley, Durham 17    
Cottesmore, Rutland 13    
Westgate, Durham/Marham 12    
Cambridge Botanic Garden 10

Impacts

As the snow and ice arrived just as schools broke up for Christmas and many people started travelling for the Christmas period, travel was disrupted.

Sadly a number of people also died.

How we did

AA president Edmund King

"The Met Office had predicted when the snow was coming."

The start of the cold spell was well forecast via our website and media broadcasts. An advisory, issued on Tuesday 15 December, gave the first warning of snow in eastern areas of England, expected to fall on Thursday and Friday of that week.

An early warning on the Wednesday, followed by a flash warning on the Thursday evening, was issued for London and parts of south-east England.

On Thursday 17 December we issued an advisory for heavy snow across Northern Ireland, western areas of Scotland, North Wales, and north-west England forecast for Sunday 20 December.

By Friday, the advisory for Northern Ireland was updated to an early warning of snow for the area on Sunday.

On the afternoon of Monday 21 December we issued flash warnings for heavy snow across southern areas of England during the evening and night.

In addition, numerous flash warnings were issued during the period to warn of icy roads and other less heavy falls of snow. The Met Office Public Weather Service Advisors remain in regular contact with the emergency services and emergency planners to ensure that everyone has been fully briefed on the situation.

The Press Office has been advising the UK and international media on the weather conditions and updated forecasts.

Contact information

Met Office Press Office: +44 (0)1392 886655

E-mail: Press Office

Met Office Customer Centre: 0870 900 0100

If you're outside the UK: +44 1392 885680

Last updated: 12 February 2013