Blizzard of January 1881

The Blizzard of January 1881 (17–18 January 1881) was one of the most severe blizzards ever to hit the southern parts of the United Kingdom.

On 18 January 1881, a low pressure system rapidly developed in the English Channel. The snowfalls began on the 17th in the southwest and as the system deepened as it moved through the Channel, a gale force easterly developed over southern parts with heavy blizzards and drifting snow. The effect of the blizzard was to paralyse all transport, communication, trade and industries. Hundreds of miles of rail track were blocked by drifting snow, tens of feet high in places. Even in central London, there were 3 feet drifts in places. Around 100 people are believed to have died as a result of the blizzard.

Reports from around the counties of snow depths

London/Middlesex: Snow started falling around 9am on the 18th and lasted until about midday on the 19th. It was accompanied by a violent gale. General depth of 9 inches and 3 feet drifts. Surrey: About 9 inches generally.

Kent: 3 to 4 inches along coast, 4-6 inches inland, 7 inches nearer London. 14 feet drifts on the Isle of Thanet.

Sussex: 7-8 inches to the north. 24 inches at Worthing, 18 inches at Brighton, 12 inches at St Leonard's, 9 to 12 inches at Littlehampton.

Isle of Wight and south Hampshire: A staggering 34 inches in two falls at Newport on Isle of Wight. St Lawrence with 22 inches, Osborne and Ventnor with 18 inches and 24 inches at Ryde. Many roads were filled with snow up to halfway on lamp-posts. 12 feet drifts at Cowes. A hall collapsed at Portsmouth due to weight of snow.

Berkshire: Ranging from 9 inches to east up to 15 inches in west.

Hertfordshire: 6 to 9 inches.

Buckinghamshire: About 12 inches in general.

Oxfordshire: 12 to 13 inches. 13 feet drifts in places.

Northamptonshire: 6 inches generally but in the SW of county it was 12 inches.

Huntingdonshire: 5 inches to NE to 8 inches in south.

Bedfordshire: 7 inches, 10 feet drifts.

Cambridgeshire: About 7 inches.

Essex: 6 inches along coast, 9 inches to west.

Suffolk: 2-3 inches along the coast up to 7 inches in west.

Norfolk: 9 inches generally.

Wiltshire: 6 inches at Calne, 36 inches at Warminster. 12 feet drifts.

Dorset: 12-14 inches inland, 18 to 20 inches along coast.

Devonshire: 12 to 14 inches generally, 3 feet over Dartmoor. 15 feet drifts.

Cornwall: 12 inches in far east, 7 inches generally.

Somerset: 12 to 13 inches in the south and east, 8 to 10 inches in west and north.

Gloucestershire: 9 to 10 inches in south, 6 to 7 inches in north. 7 to 10 feet drifts.

Herefordshire: 10 to 11 inches in south, 6 inches in the north.

Shropshire: 3 inches in the north, 5 inches in the south.

Staffordshire: 1 to 4 inches.

Worcestershire: 5 to 6 inches.

Warwickshire: 4 inches in north, 7 to 8 inches over central parts, 12 inches in SE of county.

Leicestershire: 6 inches and 6 feet drifts.

Lincolnshire: 6 to 7 inches.

South Wales: About 6 inches with 9 inches around Monmouthshire.

Radnorshire: 15 inches.

Denbighshire: 6 inches.

From the Wirral to just north of Flamborough Head northwards, no snow fell from this storm although there was a deep cover of snow over a wide area. For instance, parts of the Lancashire plain had a general cover of 6 inches.

Specific reports


The severity of the frosts were remarkable probably second to those that occurred during February 1895 in intensity and length. The Central England Temperature for the period of 8th to 27th was -4.4C

Other low minima.

At Orleton, the maximum never got above -7.0C on the 25th. Rivers in the area had frozen over by the 15th.

Boston: 15 days the mean temp was -6.1C, 6.5 inches thick ice on river.

Haverfordwest: River Cleddan frozen over. A maximum of -7.8C on the 20th.

Killaloe: Large part of Lough Derg frozen over.

An aurora was widely seen over the UK on the 31st.


    Symons's Meteorological Magazine of 1881

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