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Maundy Thursday Snowstorm of 1975


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With some cold and potentially wintry weather next week I thought I would look back to an unexpected snowstorm that struck Birmingham 45 years ago on the 27th March 1975 which was the Maundy Thursday before Easter that year.

Winter 1975 had been exceptionally mild but early and mid March was very different with frost and wintry showers. Another burst of Arctic air swept south across the UK on the 26th March with rain turning to sleet and snow across the Midlands before dieing  out.

The 27th dawned cold and frosty with a forecast for snow showers later in the day, however, by noon the temperature was up to 6c and with sunny skies and light winds the weather felt spring like so I decided to cut the grass, my pleasant morning was then disturbed by a friend ringing me from Knutsford services in Cheshire to say the M6 was at a standstill due to heavy snow, I thought he was having a laugh as in those days there was no way of checking road conditions.

My phone call over I resumed my garden duties but then I noticed to the north west large dark cumulas clouds gathering and minutes later the sun went behind the clouds and the temperature dropped like a stone. 5 minutes later sheets of sleet and hail were sweeping down reducing visibility to 100 meters and hail quickly began to accumulate on my newly cut lawn.

The wintry shower ended abruptly and I noticed the temperature was now down to 1c. The sun made a  brief appearance then vanished again behind thick dark clouds and within minutes snow was falling so heavily that the ground was completely covered. The snow intensified over the next hour and by 3pm 5cms lay and my newly cut lawn had vanished under a white blanket.

Meanwhile local radio had picked up on the storm and reports were coming in of chaotic conditions on roads across Birmingham, the A38 Aston Expressway was completely blocked with traffic backed up 7 miles onto the M6, the centre of the City was chocked with slow moving traffic.

As the rush hour got underway conditions became even worse with snowfall rates exceeding 4cms per hour, many drivers having passed their tests in the recent mild winters had no experience of such severe conditions and their were dozens of accidents which further blocked major roads.

By dusk the snow was beginning to slow and stopped shortly afterwards to leave a clear frosty night, snow depths on the morning of the 28th ranged from 7cms at Birmingham Airport to 18cms at Edgbaston University. The snow thawed quickly on the 28th but further snowfalls occured over Easter and during the first week of April.

So what caused this unexpected heavy snowfall? Examination of the charts for that day show a light but very cold Artic airmass across the UK associated with high pressure in mid Atlantic and low pressure over Scandinavia, uppers were close to -9c so convection in the strong spring sunshine was intense, it appears that snow showers formed in the Irish Sea during the morning and were funnelled down the Cheshire Gap into Birmingham, it was a classic Cheshire Gap set up with snow showers merging in the Cheshire Gap and a streamer setting up from the Irish Sea to the West Midlands.

I no longer live in Birmingham but I am sure my Brummie friends would like a repeat in the similar synoptics next week.

Andy

Edited by Penrith Snow
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Yes, I remember this although I was in the South East of England close to the North Downs at the time. I was in bed with flu for much of the Easter weekend and was glad that I didn't have to go out. My abiding memory was of Easter Sunday, 30th March, when I staggered down to the local Church in the evening to hear the final sermon of our Vicar. Snow was falling throughout the service and the Vicar rather surprisingly chose the Wrath of God as his final sermon theme. As he reached the climax of his sermon, there was an enormous flash of lightning followed by a deafening crash of thunder and all the lights went out. Sermon over and we didn't know whether to laugh or get on our knees and pray!

Philip Eden referred to this snowy spell, which lasted until 10th April, in his book of 'Great British Weather Disasters'.

  

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