Early winter 2010/11 will be remembered for bringing extreme cold, heavy snow and terrible disruption.
The severe weather came along in 2 spells with the first lasting about 2 weeks from the 25th November to the 9th December. Low pressure systems running south over the North Sea dragged persistent bitingly cold north-easterly and easterly winds over the country bringing heavy falls of snow to the east.
By the end of November many weather stations across Scotland were reporting lying snow. On the 30th of November Balmoral reported 59cms, Aviemore 26cms, Dyce 18cms, Kinloss 14cms and Glasgow Airport reported 8cms of level lying snow.
By the end of the first cold spell around the 7th, 8th and 9th of December many areas lay buried under several cms of snow. Edinburgh was reporting a daily snow depth around 30cms with 10cms in Glasgow. Reports of in excess of 50cms of level lying snow came in from higher ground and the ski centres.
The snow was accompanied by extreme temperatures with many areas struggling to get above freezing by day and the mercury plummeting by night. On the night of the 30th November the temperature at Altnaharra fell to -21.1C followed by an even colder night with -21.3C observed on the morning of the 2nd December. This made it the coldest December night in Scotland since 1995. One of the coldest nights in the cities was on the 2nd December when Glasgow and Edinburgh both dropped to -15C and Aberdeen saw the mercury bottom out at -16C.
The weather became quieter and milder between the 9th and the 15th December with a gradual thaw of the lying snow and a significant lift in temperatures. This milder spell was fairly short-lived, however, as the cold air flooded back down from the Arctic as we approached Christmas.
With regards to snow the second cold spell from the 16th to the 26th December wasn’t as bad in Scotland as the earlier spell of wintry weather. Snow depths on the 20th stood at around 5cms in Glasgow, 9cms in Edinburgh and levels around 15-20cms in the Highlands. The islands were also affected by the snow with 20cms on the north side of Orkney and 6cms measured on the Isle of Harris.
Again the air was very cold and temperatures were sent crashing with temperatures by day even in the town and cities hovering between -4C and -6C on the run up to Christmas. The 22nd December was one of the coldest days with maximum temperatures of just -3C at Prestwick, -4C in Glasgow, -5C at Dundee Airport and -6C in the capital. Kinloss and Lossiemouth had unusually low maxima, given their close proximity to the Moray Firth with highs of just -7C. Extraordinarily the mercury stayed below -12C at Aviemore and -16C at Altnaharra – remember these were the highs for the day!
The night, which followed saw the country head for a very deep freeze as the mercury dived to -20C at Altnaharra in the Northwest Highlands. What was even more striking was the temperatures reported on some of the islands, and more coastal locations, where the temperature is usually moderated by the surrounding seas. For example Ayr dropped off to -11C, Machrihanish on the Kintyre Peninsula fell to -10C, St Andrews to -9C and Skye, South Uist and Benbecula all had lows of around -7C to -8C.
After the extreme winter of 2009/10 some people would have been a little more prepared for the severe weather but the impacts on Scotland and the UK as a whole were still immense.
The heavy snowfalls blocked many roads across the country, closed most schools, which at the time was heavily criticised by some as a number of schools ended up closed for weeks.
The timing of the heavy snow and severe cold came at an extremely bad time for retailers, already struggling financially with the extreme conditions in the markets and the economy. Sales had dropped significantly and people who used the internet to buy goods were left without some of their purchases until January with so many roads closed and a country almost at a stand-still.
Many of the airports struggled to keep their runways clear and were closed on an off throughout the cold spells. Edinburgh Airport took much criticism after it was closed on several separate occasions as the runway became buried in snow.
On the 1st December the Forth Bridge was forced to close for the first time since it was built in 1964 after a lorry jack-knifed and blocked both lanes northbound. The visibility was also severely reduced in blizzard conditions in the area.
The most memorable incident for many would be, on the 3rd of December, when a band of heavy snow moved through the Central Lowlands during the morning and continued through much of the day bringing travel chaos. Hundreds of motorists were left stranded in their cars overnight on the M8, M74 and A9.
The incident became a major news story and also a political issue. STV News produced a special half hour programme on the evening of the 3rd. At the time there were disputes between Met Office forecasters and the Scottish Government as to who was to blame for the carnage on the Scottish roads. The Scottish Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson resigned a few days after the incident.
A thaw set in on Boxing Day after an official white Christmas was observed at Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. This was the second white Christmas in a row for Glasgow and Edinburgh.
As the thaw set in this caused its own woes as burst pipes then became an issue for many.
After the severe wintry spells of the 2009/10 and 2010/11 winter season, the government, councils and various organizations embarked on a huge public awareness campaign of being ‘prepared’ for severe spells of winter weather during 2011/12.