February 2009 Great Britain and Ireland snowfall

February 2009 Great Britain and Ireland snowfall

Satellite image of the snowfall in England and Wales (Click here for false colour image)
Type Winter storm
Formed 1 February 2009
Dissipated 13 February 2009[1]
Lowest pressure 992 mbar (hPa)[2]
Lowest temperature −18.4 °C (−1.1 °F) in Aviemore, Scotland
Maximum snowfall or ice accretion 55 centimetres
(22.0 inches) in Okehampton, Devon
Damage £1.3 billion (US$2.1 billion)[2]
Areas affected British Isles and parts of Western Europe

The February 2009 Great Britain and Ireland snowfall was a prolonged period of snowfall that began on 1 February 2009. Some areas experienced their largest snowfall levels in 18 years.[3] Snow fell over much of Western Europe.[4] The United Kingdom's Met Office and Ireland's Met Éireann issued severe weather warnings in anticipation of the snowfall. More than 30 centimetres (12 in) of snow fell on parts of the North Downs and over 20 centimetres (8 in) in parts of the London area.[5] Such snow accumulation is uncommon in London.[6] On the morning of 6 February the majority of Great Britain and Ireland had snow cover, with the area surrounding the Bristol Channel (South Wales (Cardiff area) and South West England (Bristol area)) being most affected – 55 centimetres (22 in) had settled overnight around Okehampton, Devon, South West England with similar depths in South Wales. In Ireland the highest totals were recorded around East Kildare and Wicklow County's were up to 11 inches (28 cm) fell around Naas, County Kildare and even more along the Wicklow Mountains. The last time such widespread snowfall affected Britain was in February 1991.[7] On the 2nd a total of 32 centimetres (13 in) had fallen in Leatherhead, Surrey just south of the M25. Also 30 centimetres (12 in) had fallen over the South Downs and 26 centimetres (10 in) in higher areas of Brighton.

On 2 February, all London buses were removed from service and there were severe delays on London Underground. All train services on Southeastern railway services between London, Kent and East Sussex were cancelled, as were those on Southern. South West Trains operated an emergency timetable with reduced service. Severe disruption occurred on First Capital Connect services, c2c services, First Great Western services, National Express East Anglia and Eurostar services from St Pancras International. In Ireland Dublin Bus routes were also severely disrupted while in England all bus services in Brighton, Crawley and Royal Tunbridge Wells had been severely disrupted.

Heathrow Airport was closed and British Airways cancelled all departures for a period. London City, Luton, Aberdeen, Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham and Southampton were also affected.[6][8] The Gatwick Express railway service was suspended.[3] In Ireland on 5 February Dublin Airport was closed for a period to allow snow to be cleared from the runways, delaying flights. Flights at the airport were cancelled the following day.

Other effects included lost work time and disruption to education. Costs, mainly in terms of lost work time, are estimated to amount to around £1.2 billion, although this may be underestimated. The adverse weather conditions caused schools in some areas of the United Kingdom to close during 2, 3 and 5 February in the Midlands.[9]

A winter storm swept across the south of England on 9–10 February bringing heavy rain and snow, which caused flooding in southern England. In France, Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport was closed. In Aviemore, in the Scottish Highlands, a temperature of −18.4 °C (−1.1 °F) — according to the Met Office, was recorded; the lowest temperature recorded in the UK since 2003.[10][11]

The maximum depth of the event was 55 centimetres (22 in) in Okehampton, Devon on 6 February. Other high amounts were Drybrook, Gloucestershire which had on 2 February 32 centimetres (13 in) reported in Leatherhead, 28 centimetres (11 in) in Purley, 25 centimetres (10 in) in Croydon, 20 centimetres (8 in) in Greater London, 30 centimetres (12 in) on the South Downs, 18 centimetres (7 in) in Brighton and 26 centimetres (10 in) on higher areas of Brighton.

The weather conditions severely disrupted the month's sporting schedule.[12]


Snow falling in London, 2 February 2009

The February 2009 snowstorm followed an intense Sudden stratospheric warming in the previous month. These events often help to set up surface weather patterns that give rise to cold spells and snowfall in Europe.[13] The snow then resulted from several factors starting on 1 February, the main component of which was a strong low pressure area near Spain. A strong high pressure area over Scandinavia created a tight pressure gradient between the two systems. A cold front also was tracking over Britain at this time. After passing through the region, cold air set in behind it, enhanced by an upper-level low over Germany. An inverted trough then extended out from the cold front, bringing precipitation to England. Late on 2 February, a surface-low pressure system, the actual snow storm, developed over the English Channel.[2]


School closures

The school closures in the United Kingdom prompted negative comments from parents who were unhappy about the "confusing and contradictory" messages they received.[20] Some laid the blame of the excessive closures: not on the public's actual ability to make alternative travel arrangements - to 'cope', but on council and school administrators' having an unhelpful risk-averse 'health and safety driven' legal attitude.[21] Other concerns included parents having to take time off work when the weather was not quite as bad as it seemed.[22][23]

Swansea University was closed on Tuesday 3 February through concern of the safety of students and staff using icy roads. The University of Exeter was closed from 15:00 on Friday 6 February because of icy conditions on its hilly campus, while the University of the West of England in Bristol and neighbouring institutions the University of Bath and Bath Spa University were closed on Thursday 5th and Friday 6th for similar reasons. .


On 9 February, heavy rain and melting snow caused flooding in southern England, exacerbated by high tides which trapped water in river systems. Heavy snow and floods closed roads in Cornwall, Devon, Oxfordshire, Somerset, Hampshire and Sussex. Areas of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire endured power cuts because of damage caused by the weight of snow on equipment or trees falling onto power lines. In Somerset, 20 people were rescued from their cars in Taunton and Yeovil because of floods, and rivers burst their banks.[24]


The snow provided an almost continuous photographic backdrop for the historic 250 mile run of the brand new steam locomotive No. 60163 Tornado hauling The Talisman from Darlington to London on 7 February. It is seen here passing through Hertfordshire

Transport links in many parts of the regions were greatly affected by the bad weather. Railway services were reduced in frequency, with the south-east of England most affected, but were reintroduced over the following two days. South West Trains's services to and from Waterloo were disrupted, as were Southeastern and Southern trains services from Kent and the South Coast. By 3 February, only the District line saw route delays through London.

Many rural and urban bus services in Britain and Ireland were suspended. Transport for London reported that several bus routes had been "suspended or redirected" due to blocked roads. All buses were cancelled on 2 February after 20 buses slid off the road the previous day.[25] London did not have enough snowploughs to cope with the widespread problems.[26]

In Ireland Dublin Bus experienced delays on 3 February, particularly in the southside of the city, around Lucan, Tallaght, Rathfarnham and Enniskerry. No buses were able to gain access to Lucan village or estates in Tallaght.[27] Dublin's M50 experienced severe delays throughout with many commuters reporting lengthy periods until they reached their homes following work.[27]

In other areas buses generally took amended routes, avoiding side roads or rural lanes and using only main roads.

In England and Wales both Severn crossings were closed on 6 February because ice began falling from overhead gantries, affecting both the M4 and M48 motorways across the Severn Estuary; traffic was diverted into Gloucestershire and onto the M50. This was the first closure because of a weather-related incident of the second Severn crossing since the structure opened in 1996.[28] They reopened on 10 February.[24]

The A23 between Brighton and Haywards Heath saw severe disruption on 2 February and the A27 through Brighton was closed because of the huge volume of snowfall.

Air traffic delays

"I have to admit that it's an irony to return home to snow but I've come to like it."

Explorer Mark Pollock who, having become the first blind person to reach the South Pole, endured a delay of hours due to the snow at Dublin Airport.[29]

Heathrow Airport closed both of its runways; one was later reopened. British Airways cancelled all departures. London City, Luton and Southampton Airports were closed.[6][8] The Gatwick Express railway service was suspended.[3] Temporary closures also affected other international airports at Cardiff,[30] Birmingham[31] and Bristol.[32]

On 5 February heavy snowfalls closed Dublin Airport in Ireland, leading to the cancellation of approximately half the flight operation or almost 200 flights.[33] The airport closed at 01:00, blaming slippery runways, and flights were diverted to other airports.[34] It reopened at 19:45 that evening[33] but flights were disrupted by the weather again the following day.[35]


The icy conditions led to many casualties on roads and exposed areas. Hospitals across the region reported great increases in injuries sustained from falling in the snow. Sites across south-central England, covering Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, reported that their emergency departments were very busy with minor injuries, with figures of more than one-quarter of all patients suffering falls.


News coverage

News coverage of the snow received very high ratings, with over 7 million watching the BBC's 18:00 and 22:00 news programmes. The BBC News channel received its biggest audience since the 2007 London car bombs, and their website was sent 35,000 pictures and videos from people of the snow, their highest number ever.[43]

Sporting changes and disruptions

The region's sporting schedule for the early and latter parts of the week was severely affected by the extreme weather conditions. Sports such as hurling, camogie, gaelic football, association football, rugby union, rugby league, horse racing, motorsports and fox hunting were all disrupted in various ways summarised below.


In some regions of Britain, the response to the adverse weather conditions was considered an unnecessary panic[49] the Devon and Cornwall Business Council stated: "We have had too many businesses closed unnecessarily because people were panicked by the weather forecast. (...) We have had too many schools closed down, which has an adverse impact on people who rely on carers to look after children. (...) I think we have over-reacted quite significantly."[49] It has been estimated that the weather cost the region's small businesses £40m.

Some media considered the panic amusing, comparing the UK to other countries.[50][51][52] Hugo Rifkind wrote in his article: "Other countries have trains. And snow. What happens there? I telephoned the Swedish answer to Network Rail. «I have read about your problems in the newspaper» says a spokesman from the press office, «and I had a little laugh»(...)" He also notes that in 2008 in Aspen, Colorado, during one of the winter days there was 30 centimetres (12 in) of snow buses stopped for half an hour, whereas in London, where there was less snow (15 centimetres (6 in) at its peak), buses were suspended for the whole day.[51] Heather Mallick mentioned, that Toronto was about to set a snowfall record having 127 centimetres (50 in) of snow: "We may be late for work. But we get there. It would be considered impossibly sappy not to." She also stated: "Britain, you don't have a snow emergency. You have a novelty."[52]


In the wake of London's bus service closures, an inquiry was held into the inability of London's local authorities to work with public transport service providers.[53]

See also


  1. "End of UK's big freeze in sight". BBC News Online. BBC. 13 February 2009. Retrieved 16 February 2009.
  2. 1 2 3 Richard H. Grumm (2009). "Western European Snow of 1–2 February 2009" (PDF). National Weather Service Office. Retrieved 15 July 2009.
  3. 1 2 3 "UK | Heavy snow hits much of Britain". BBC News. 2 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  4. "Blanket of snow over much of Europe". RTÉ. 2 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  5. Gillan, Audrey (2 February 2009). "Heavy snow to cause travel chaos all week | UK news | guardian.co.uk". London: Guardian. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  6. 1 2 3 "Snow causes London to slow to crawl - Weather- msnbc.com". MSNBC. 2 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  7. Richard Allen Greene and Olivia Feld CNN (7 February 2009). "Heaviest UK snow in 18 years hits international flights". CNN.com. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  8. 1 2 "Business | Businesses counting cost of snow". BBC News. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  9. "Snow causing further disruption". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  10. "UK monthly review - February 2009". The BBC. 4 March 2009. Retrieved 30 March 2009.
  11. "Paris airports close for storms". The BBC. 9 February 2009. Retrieved 10 February 2009.
  12. "BBC SPORT | Sporting schedule hit by weather". BBC News. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  13. A.Marshall and A.A.Scaife. "Sudden Stratospheric Warmings and Cold Spells in Europe". Journal of Geophysical Research.
  14. "Schools face further disruption". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 3 February 2009.
  15. "Heavy snow hits schools and roads". BBC News. BBC. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 3 February 2009.
  16. "Three councils shut all schools". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 3 February 2009.
  17. "Schools ordered to close for snow". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 3 February 2009.
  18. "Snow continues to close schools". BBC News. 4 February 2009. Retrieved 4 February 2009.
  19. 1 2 "Severe weather warning from Met Éireann". RTÉ. 2 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  20. "Parents' fury as schools stay shut during cold snap". Telegraph.co.uk. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 3 February 2009.
  21. Closing schools 'tells pupils it's OK to give into adversity' The Times: 4 February 2009 Page 7 - Joanna Sugden, Alexandra Frean
  22. "Parents angry at school closures". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 3 February 2009.
  23. "McCoy victory chase hit by snow". BBC Sport. British Broadcasting Corporation. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 3 February 2009.
  24. 1 2 "Storm brings floods to UK areas". British Broadcasting Corporation. 11 February 2009. Retrieved 12 February 2009.
  25. "Further disruption for commuters". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 3 February 2009.
  26. "Travel | More snow snarls travel across Britain, Ireland | Seattle Times Newspaper". Seattletimes.nwsource.com. 2 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  27. 1 2 "Major delays on Dublin Bus services". RTÉ. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  28. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/7873359.stm Ice-fall on cars shuts M4 bridges
  29. "Blind man returns from polar adventure". The Irish Times. 4 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  30. "TRAVEL: Cardiff airport re-opens (From South Wales Argus)". Southwalesargus.co.uk. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  31. "Snow hits Birmingham airport and schools | UK | Reuters". Uk.reuters.com. 9 February 2007. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  32. "England | Bristol | Airport reopens after snow fall". BBC News. 6 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  33. 1 2 "Dublin Airport reopens after heavy snow". RTÉ. 5 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  34. "Dublin Airport closed due to snow". TV3. 5 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  35. "Flights cancelled at Dublin Airport". RTÉ. 6 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  36. "Men airlifted after sledge falls". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 4 February 2009. Retrieved 4 February 2009.
  37. "Severe ice expected in morning". RTÉ. 4 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  38. "Snow brings another day of chaos". BBC. 6 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  39. "Twins born after blizzard battle". BBC News. 6 February 2009. Retrieved 2 May 2010.
  40. 1 2 http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/1072377
  41. "Heavy snow hits schools and roads". BBC News. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 2 May 2010.
  42. "Teacher tribute to ice death boy". BBC News. 9 February 2009. Retrieved 2 May 2010.
  43. Leigh Holmwood (3 February 2009). "TV ratings: Snow boosts news bulletins". London: Guardian. Retrieved 4 February 2009.
  44. 1 2 "Sporting schedule hit by weather". BBC Sport. British Broadcasting Corporation. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 3 February 2009.
  45. "Harlequins P-P Bradford". BBC News. 6 February 2009. Retrieved 7 February 2009.
  46. "French team stuck on plane at Dublin airport". RTÉ. 6 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  47. "Sporting weekend hit by weather". BBC Sport. BBC. 7 February 2009. Retrieved 7 February 2009.
  48. 1 2 3 4 5 "Sporting fixtures hit by weather". RTÉ. 8 February 2009. Retrieved 8 February 2009.
  49. 1 2 "'Snow panic' cost region millions". BBC News. BBC. 9 February 2009. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  50. "Snowfall in Britain - why the panic?". Heidi Kingstone. The-Latest.com. 2 February 2009. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  51. 1 2 "Think it's cold in London? Get real". Hugo Rifkind. Times Online. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  52. 1 2 "Honestly. It's only a wee bit of snow, Britain. Get on with it.". Heather Mallick. London: Guardian.co.uk. 2 February 2009. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  53. Jim Dunton (5 February 2009). "Inquiry as snow stalls London buses". Local Government Chronicle / Emap Limited. Retrieved 21 June 2009.
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