Late April cold spells and the Easter Snowstorm of 1908

Figure 1 – Lymington High Street – April 25th 1908 (courtesy of

Easter in 1908 fell late, so the snow that fell over much of southern England must have come as a big surprise on the Easter Sunday on the 19th of April (fig 1). The following week was intensely cold for late April, and there were periods of heavy snow across much of southern England. In an article in the Met Mag of May 1908, Fred J Brodie said this about the snow at Oxford:

The conditions at Oxford are interesting in a special degree on account of the length of the meteorological records at the Radcliffe Observatory which run from 1853. The depth of snow there was 17 inches, and the only instance of a greater amount being recorded at any time of year was on February 13th and 14th, 1888, when 24 inches of undrifted snow was measured.

I love the comment that Fred went onto make a few lines further on…

The practice of comparing, for the purpose of record making, observations made in two different localities is not to
be commended…

He of course is completely right in what he says, but he must be spinning in his grave these days, on the goings on in the early 21st century with extreme temperature records I would have thought, because no one, and that includes myself seems to give a hoot these days about comparing extremes from weather stations without knowing thinking much about their actual location. You can find an article about the events of April 1908 on the Weather Outlook forum, which includes details of snow depths recorded at the time, plus a lot of other information and photographs about the blizzard. The Weather Magazine of December 1981 also had an article about April 1908 in which it linked it to the April of 1981 and said:

The marked similarity of the graphs for 1908 and 1981, especially in the second half of each, is confirmed by a correlation coefficient of 0.93 for the last 15 days of the month. For the full month the correlation coefficient is 0.65. The weather of late April was remarkably similar in these years.

Since 1981, the daily CET series may well have undergone some slight modifications, but there is most definitely a cold spell that occurred during at the second half of each month, the minimum CET in 1908 was a couple of degrees colder than it was in 1981 though, and those on the 24th and 25th still hold the record for lowest minimums on those two days (blue stars). Personally I only see a broad similarity between the two, I’ll have to spend some time and write some code to generate a correlation coefficients between these two months and see what I come up with. If you look closely at the graph of CET (fig 2), you’ll notice that in just over a week, maximum anomalies rose from around -8°C to +8°C. The resultant rapid thawing of lying snow from the week-long cold spell lead to great flooding in places along rivers in the southeast especially the Thames, and the Great Ouse at Buckingham.

Figure 2

Synoptically, the 25th of April in both 1908 and 1981 were slightly similar in that they were both cyclonic in nature.

Figure 3 – Courtesy of NCEP/NOAA reanalysis

But up aloft in the atmosphere the cold air of 1908 was much deeper than it was in 1981 (figs 4 & 5).

It seems cold outbreaks towards the end of April are not at all uncommon, I’ve just picked on probably two of the more extreme events. Next week promises its own cold outbreak (fig 6), but synoptically, if the GFS model is correct, it will be more of a cold northerly rather than cyclonic as it was either in 1908 or 1981.

Figure 6 – Courtesy of OGIMET


About xmetman

An ex-metman passionate about all things to do with weather, climate and clouds
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