Snow The Weather


Snow

A journey into the world of the snow crystal, as science explains a notorious episode in British Rail's history and why a British company is the world's leading snow producer.


Similar Content

Browse content similar to Snow. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!

Transcript


LineFromTo

Snow is the most beguiling feature of our British weather.

0:00:110:00:15

It's the only meteorological element which changes the appearance of what we look out on, totally.

0:00:150:00:23

It makes children of us all.

0:00:250:00:27

A white Christmas is what we dream of.

0:00:290:00:31

# Oh the weather outside is frightful

0:00:380:00:42

# But the fire is so delightful

0:00:420:00:45

# Since we've no place to go

0:00:450:00:48

# Let it snow, Let it snow, let it snow. #

0:00:480:00:51

But beyond snow's magic lies a complex and intriguing material.

0:00:510:00:56

Scientists have looked deep into the microscopic world of the snow crystal.

0:00:560:01:01

They found a larger world revealed.

0:01:010:01:04

I can hold a piece of ice which has been un-melted since it fell thousands of years ago.

0:01:040:01:10

Not only that, but I can tell you what year it fell,

0:01:100:01:15

I can tell you whether the climate that year was colder or warmer that usual.

0:01:150:01:19

I find that incredible.

0:01:190:01:20

We are learning to predict snow, even to make it.

0:01:220:01:26

Yet, for all our understanding,

0:01:260:01:29

why does a small amount of snow still bring Britain to its knees?

0:01:290:01:33

The snowflake is one of nature's most beautiful and tantalising creations.

0:01:450:01:51

But beauty can sometimes be deceptive.

0:01:560:01:59

As Britain found out when it started to snow on the 7th February, 1991.

0:01:590:02:05

There was something different about this particular snow.

0:02:100:02:14

It caused chaos and a new phrase entered the British vocabulary,

0:02:140:02:19

"the wrong type of snow".

0:02:190:02:21

-ARCHIVE:

-Heavy snowfalls and bitter cold,

0:02:210:02:23

temperatures down to minus 11 Centigrade have already been recorded

0:02:230:02:28

on the south coast at Bournemouth.

0:02:280:02:30

At five this morning it was colder there than in Moscow.

0:02:300:02:33

As British Rail discovered,

0:02:330:02:35

snow that falls at polar temperatures of more than minus ten has strange properties.

0:02:350:02:42

'We were prepared for normal snow but we weren't prepared for this stuff, it caught us completely on the hop.

0:02:420:02:48

'Reports came into my office that the trains were failing,'

0:02:480:02:51

and I was getting this from all the depots.

0:02:520:02:55

Everyone was saying, "we're getting trains limping in".

0:02:550:02:58

Train services began to collapse.

0:02:580:03:01

ARCHIVE: Rail schedules have been severely disrupted.

0:03:050:03:07

-ARCHIVE:

-British Rail say they've abandoned their scheduled timetables.

0:03:070:03:11

They never seem to be prepared for it. Two snowflakes and everything goes wrong.

0:03:110:03:15

Automatic doors began to jam, air brakes failed,

0:03:150:03:19

but British Rail's Achilles heel was the trains' electric engines.

0:03:190:03:24

We were losing motors at a great rate.

0:03:240:03:27

Several hundred motors went in a matter of days,

0:03:270:03:33

trains were limping in, sadly damaged.

0:03:330:03:37

-ARCHIVE:

-London's mainline rail stations are mostly closed or running skeleton services.

0:03:370:03:42

A spokesman there said, "British Rail is in a mess."

0:03:420:03:47

With the rail system crippled,

0:03:470:03:48

British Rail's response to the London Evening Standard

0:03:480:03:52

became one of the most famous excuses of all time.

0:03:520:03:55

We've had this fascinating situation with the new snowflake

0:03:550:03:59

and stopped the whole of British Rail and they'd never heard of this type before.

0:03:590:04:04

I thought it was one of the great public relations exercises of this century.

0:04:040:04:08

So was Jeffrey Archer right to be sceptical, or could British Rail

0:04:100:04:14

really have fallen victim to "the wrong type of snow"?

0:04:140:04:17

The answer lies in the work of a Japanese scientist, Ukichiro Nakaya.

0:04:190:04:26

In the 1930s, in a remote mountain research hut,

0:04:280:04:32

Nakaya, a scientist at the University of Hokkaido, began his remarkable work.

0:04:320:04:38

This footage has been released by his family to be shown for the first time on British television.

0:04:400:04:46

Nakaya wanted to discover the atmospheric conditions that grew snow crystals in the clouds.

0:04:470:04:53

To do this, he needed to try and create snow in the lab.

0:04:530:04:57

This was thought impossible.

0:04:570:04:59

Nakaya built a cloud chamber in which he could adjust temperature, air pressure and humidity.

0:05:060:05:12

His aim was to mimic the conditions found in snow-producing clouds.

0:05:120:05:17

After three years, he had a breakthrough.

0:05:200:05:25

This is Nakaya's own footage.

0:05:250:05:27

On the tip of a fine rabbit hair, he grew the first ever artificial snowflake.

0:05:270:05:33

He discovered that by finely adjusting the humidity and temperature,

0:05:500:05:54

he could create snow crystals with a huge array of shapes and type,

0:05:540:05:59

just like those found in nature.

0:05:590:06:01

There wasn't just the classic star-shaped crystals you see on a Christmas card.

0:06:100:06:16

At minus ten and low humidity, he grew simple hexagonal plates.

0:06:200:06:25

Dropping the temperature further to minus 25, he grew column-shaped crystals.

0:06:250:06:31

Nakaya went on to discover hundreds of different types of snow.

0:06:310:06:35

Nakaya's legacy was to compile the first ever classification of snow.

0:06:460:06:52

More importantly, because of his pioneering work,

0:06:550:06:59

we can now understand the conditions within clouds from the shape of a snow crystal.

0:06:590:07:05

So, back in 1991, as British Rail battled the polar weather,

0:07:070:07:13

can Nakaya's classification of the different types of snow give us an explanation of what happened?

0:07:130:07:20

Simply looking back at these charts from February '91,

0:07:200:07:24

you can see that with such cold air over us,

0:07:240:07:26

the snowflakes would have been that much smaller,

0:07:260:07:28

and you wouldn't get the big, fluffy, goose feather-type

0:07:280:07:31

snowflakes we often see in this country.

0:07:310:07:33

Primarily because the air was just so dry.

0:07:330:07:36

As Nakaya has shown us, when the temperature is minus ten with low humidity,

0:07:400:07:45

the snow that forms is very fine plate crystals.

0:07:450:07:50

This is more like snow called "diamond dust"

0:07:510:07:54

found at the North Pole.

0:07:540:07:56

These crystals find their way though the smallest of gaps.

0:07:590:08:04

Combined with the high winds from Scandinavia,

0:08:040:08:06

it was like sand-blasting British Rail's rolling stock.

0:08:060:08:10

Trains are driven along by large electric motors which we call traction motors.

0:08:120:08:18

And they are in here between the wheels.

0:08:180:08:22

To keep them cool, cooling air is fed down a duct,

0:08:220:08:26

the air is drawn into the locomotive through the vents up at roof level.

0:08:260:08:32

And unfortunately, on this occasion, as well as air came snow.

0:08:320:08:38

And the snow, when it got into the traction motor, melted,

0:08:380:08:42

turned to water.

0:08:420:08:44

And water with high voltage electricity means trouble.

0:08:440:08:48

There was a big bang and we'd lost the traction motor.

0:08:480:08:52

The failure rate was enormous,

0:08:520:08:54

and basically, it caused the railway network to almost collapse.

0:08:540:08:59

The particular snow that we had that year was quite different, and I hope I never see it again.

0:09:010:09:08

So it really was the wrong type of snow that crippled British Rail.

0:09:080:09:13

An extremely rare occurrence in this country.

0:09:130:09:18

It's thanks to Nakaya's classification that we can identify the culprit.

0:09:180:09:23

Tiny plate crystals.

0:09:230:09:25

Long before Nakaya's discoveries, it was the gods that took the blame for all kinds of snow.

0:09:390:09:45

In ancient Scotland, they believed that snow was brought by the Cailleach,

0:09:460:09:51

a blue winter hag.

0:09:510:09:53

This queen of winter personified the elemental powers of nature.

0:09:550:10:00

The Ancient Greeks, before myth gave way to science,

0:10:000:10:05

had their own snow god, and he had a bad reputation.

0:10:050:10:08

The Greeks thought that all things in nature in 1000 BC

0:10:080:10:12

were caused by the gods fighting amongst themselves.

0:10:120:10:16

Mount Olympus was like the lodging house of a dysfunctional family.

0:10:160:10:19

And they would have blamed all the worst conditions of weather and cold upon one god, Kraikas.

0:10:190:10:26

His name meant evil, he was the son of Boreas, the son of the north wind.

0:10:260:10:32

And Kraikas, of course, was often seen flying through the air and in his hands he would have a shield

0:10:320:10:39

and it would be full of hailstones and he'd chuck these at the world with tremendous force

0:10:390:10:44

to bring hail and storms and cold and snow

0:10:440:10:49

and lock the world down below into a freezing, freezing paralysis.

0:10:490:10:54

Not all Greeks looked to the gods for an explanation of snowfall.

0:11:050:11:09

This was a time during the dawn of geometry and science,

0:11:090:11:13

and one man, Epicurus, came up with his own ingenious theory.

0:11:130:11:18

Epicurus believed that in the clouds there were pores, symmetrical little pores rather like a sieve,

0:11:180:11:24

and if you have the water which he thought formed in the clouds

0:11:240:11:28

being forced through the grater and freezing on the way down,

0:11:280:11:35

you will end up having a lovely covering of snow on the ground.

0:11:350:11:41

And it's not a bad idea, is it?

0:11:410:11:44

Epicurus may have been wildly wrong about how snow forms,

0:11:470:11:51

but he was right to focus on how it falls.

0:11:510:11:54

Remarkably, as snow descends,

0:11:590:12:02

it captures the chemistry of the atmosphere.

0:12:020:12:06

In polar regions, it freezes and forms layers.

0:12:070:12:11

These layers can survive for hundreds of thousands of years.

0:12:110:12:15

This frozen snow gives scientists an extraordinary glimpse into the past.

0:12:170:12:23

Since the birth of man, snow has been keeping a diary of climate change and human events.

0:12:230:12:30

The eruption of volcanoes, the industrial revolution,

0:12:410:12:47

each has been recorded by snow.

0:12:470:12:50

So as snow falls through the atmosphere, it actually catches

0:12:500:12:53

quite a lot of what's floating around in the air.

0:12:530:12:55

So, for example, we can see sulphuric acid from big volcanoes,

0:12:550:12:58

you can see lead from leaded petrol,

0:12:580:13:00

you can see climate change, you can see temperature.

0:13:000:13:03

So what we do is we go to the polar regions, we drill down into the ice.

0:13:030:13:07

Because the ice is built up year on year,

0:13:070:13:09

as we drill deeper in to the ice, effectively, we're drilling into the past.

0:13:090:13:13

So my job is to excavate that ice from the polar ice sheets,

0:13:130:13:16

bring it back to the lab,

0:13:160:13:18

and work out what's been happening to the climate and the atmosphere over many thousands of years.

0:13:180:13:23

Well, I can go into the cold room and I can hold a piece of ice

0:13:440:13:47

which has been unmelted since it fell thousands of years ago.

0:13:470:13:50

Not only that, but I can tell you how old it is, I can tell you what year it fell,

0:13:500:13:54

I can tell you that year if it was colder or warmer than usual,

0:13:540:13:57

I can tell you what levels of carbon dioxide was in the atmosphere.

0:13:570:14:01

All of this from a tube of ice which hasn't melted in thousands of years.

0:14:010:14:05

I find that incredible.

0:14:050:14:07

The way snow records the temperature is in the change of the chemistry of the water itself.

0:14:090:14:15

Now, what we do is we look at the oxygen in the water,

0:14:150:14:18

and we get two different types of oxygen.

0:14:180:14:21

One we call Oxygen 16 and one we call Oxygen 18.

0:14:210:14:23

And the ratio of those two types of oxygen changes with temperature.

0:14:230:14:28

So broadly speaking, the warmer the climate,

0:14:280:14:31

the more we see of the oxygen 18,

0:14:310:14:33

and the colder the climate, the less we see of the oxygen 18.

0:14:330:14:36

When scientists studied temperature records from ice cores in Greenland,

0:14:400:14:44

they noticed something unusual had happened 700 years ago.

0:14:440:14:48

The planet's temperature started to drop steadily,

0:14:510:14:56

and by the 16th century, the average temperature in Britain had fallen by half a degree.

0:14:560:15:01

Half a degree temperature change doesn't sound like an awful lot,

0:15:010:15:04

but it's enough to shift the winter temperatures significantly colder,

0:15:040:15:08

so we would have more snow, more frost, perhaps rivers freezing over.

0:15:080:15:13

It's not yet clear what caused this half-a-degree drop.

0:15:140:15:18

But we do know it has led to a period known as "the Little Ice Age".

0:15:180:15:23

The impact on Britain was devastating.

0:15:230:15:27

The coldest period was the 300 years between 1550 and 1850.

0:15:280:15:34

In Scotland, cod fishing failed as fish migrated south.

0:15:370:15:42

Bitter winters reduced the growing seasons for farmers by as much as two months.

0:15:430:15:49

Crops failed.

0:15:510:15:53

The result was malnutrition and famine

0:15:530:15:56

which aggravated the plague and the influenza epidemic of 1557.

0:15:560:16:01

Many rooms wouldn't even have had fireplaces,

0:16:030:16:06

and you would have had people locked in by the cold for months and months on end.

0:16:060:16:11

The Little Ice Age caused the River Thames to freeze over.

0:16:190:16:23

Lively Frost Fairs were staged on the ice.

0:16:230:16:27

This new frozen territory quickly became a lawless zone

0:16:270:16:31

outside the control of the authorities.

0:16:310:16:34

You had stalls, you had oxen being roasted on the ice,

0:16:360:16:40

you had drink being sold outside the normal legal limit,

0:16:400:16:43

you have all sorts of people flocking in for illicit trading and fun and games.

0:16:430:16:50

When you read even the poems and the plays and the songs of this period,

0:16:500:16:55

there's a whole sense of the depths of winter.

0:16:550:16:58

And one particular song I know, each strain ends with all of the jollities you get at Christmas,

0:16:580:17:04

"to keep the hard winter away".

0:17:040:17:07

So every strain ends "To keep the hard winter away, mm-mm."

0:17:070:17:11

And gives you a sense of how bitter winters were in those days.

0:17:110:17:15

The regular snowfalls of the Little Ice Age prompted one of Britain's greatest scientific minds

0:17:200:17:26

to explore the structure of snow.

0:17:260:17:28

This was made possible thanks to an amazing new invention.

0:17:300:17:34

The revolutionary instrument which would lead to huge advances in science was the microscope.

0:17:360:17:43

The scientist, Robert Hooke.

0:17:430:17:45

In the mid-17th century, Hooke was one of a small group of visionaries

0:17:480:17:53

pushing the boundaries of experimental science.

0:17:530:17:56

To understand Robert Hooke's work with the microscope,

0:17:560:17:59

you have to first look at the invention of the telescope, 60 years before.

0:17:590:18:03

Galileo had first shown, along with an Englishman called Thomas Harriot,

0:18:030:18:07

that when you use the newly-invented Dutch spyglass or telescope, the universe looks utterly different.

0:18:070:18:13

And this is the first device to, what I call, break the perception barrier.

0:18:130:18:17

To go beyond the naked eye and show what instrumentation can do for refining the human senses.

0:18:170:18:22

The microscope was invented in the early 17th century, around the same time as the telescope,

0:18:220:18:28

but for decades the microscope had been mainly used as a toy.

0:18:280:18:33

Robert Hooke's genius was to recognise it as a research tool.

0:18:330:18:37

What the microscope does is enable you to see a realm

0:18:370:18:41

as vast and as intricate and as beautiful in the minute

0:18:410:18:44

as what Galileo and Harriot saw in the heavens with a telescope.

0:18:440:18:51

Hooke began to draw everything in this new world revealed by the microscope.

0:18:510:18:56

In January 1665, he published his great work, Micrographia.

0:18:560:19:02

The book transformed our perception of the natural world.

0:19:020:19:07

People were amazed that there was such a wonder

0:19:150:19:18

in the world beyond vision shown by lenses.

0:19:180:19:21

To study snow under the microscope, Hooke had to work in a rooftop gazebo at freezing temperatures.

0:19:230:19:30

Allan Chapman has reconstructed Hooke's research technique.

0:19:330:19:38

He mentions at first noticing snowflakes on a black hat

0:19:380:19:42

or on a black cloak and being struck by their beautiful geometry.

0:19:420:19:48

He then suggests that he would take a candle and a large vessel of water,

0:19:490:19:56

brine, with a very high power to bend and focus light.

0:19:560:20:00

He'd then adjust the candle so it produced a focus of light,

0:20:000:20:05

and he'd then adjust it until there was a brilliant illumination falling on the snowflake.

0:20:050:20:12

Hooke's drawings revealed that all snowflakes had six sides.

0:20:290:20:33

He saw it as divine, it was part of God's plan that ran through the whole of the natural world.

0:20:330:20:38

With the microscopes of the time, Hooke couldn't get close enough

0:20:410:20:45

to understand the scientific explanation for the six-sided crystals.

0:20:450:20:50

And this extraordinary thing about the crystal aspect of it.

0:20:500:20:53

The six, why is it six?

0:20:530:20:55

We don't really know as children or even as non-scientific adults.

0:20:550:20:59

It's just a magical fact.

0:20:590:21:01

But there's this common element of the sixy-ness of it.

0:21:010:21:05

Even by 1885, when an American, Wilson Bentley,

0:21:050:21:10

combined the microscope and the newly-invented camera

0:21:100:21:13

to photograph snowflakes for the first time,

0:21:130:21:16

he was no closer to solving the riddle of the six sides.

0:21:160:21:19

The answer lay in delving deeper into the snowflake.

0:21:260:21:30

Then, in 1929, the breakthrough arrived.

0:21:300:21:34

A new scientific technique called X-ray crystallography

0:21:380:21:42

would allow scientists to peer into the very molecular fabric of snow.

0:21:420:21:47

What they found was the frozen H2O water molecules in snow,

0:21:480:21:53

arranged in a perfect six-sided hexagon.

0:21:530:21:57

The snow crystal grows at the six corners of this hexagon

0:21:580:22:02

and that's why the snow flake always has six sides.

0:22:020:22:07

I think we are mesmerised by snow crystals

0:22:070:22:10

because they remind us of the infinite beauty of nature.

0:22:100:22:13

It's like looking down a kaleidoscope as a kid,

0:22:130:22:15

the shape infinitely changes.

0:22:150:22:17

It reminds us that even when things are cold and wet and horrible,

0:22:170:22:21

there's still beauty there in a kind of geometric way.

0:22:210:22:25

As snow falls to earth, it grows into a huge array of shapes.

0:22:290:22:33

It's these shape that determine how different layers of snow bind together.

0:22:330:22:38

These are needle crystals.

0:22:420:22:44

Under the right conditions, these thin hexagonal columns can produce an unstable snow pack.

0:22:440:22:51

What's known as a weak layer.

0:22:510:22:53

In the Alps, they dig into the snow to check for weak layers.

0:22:570:23:02

If a cross section of snow slides apart, it reveals the danger of an avalanche.

0:23:020:23:08

It's a perfect demonstration that there's a weak layer there.

0:23:140:23:18

This footage from the Alps shows that when a weak layer fails,

0:23:180:23:22

it can trigger a slab avalanche.

0:23:220:23:25

These skiers were lucky.

0:23:420:23:44

They survived.

0:23:440:23:46

In 1999, 31 people died in the Austrian town of Galtur

0:23:460:23:51

from another type of avalanche.

0:23:510:23:54

Massive snowfalls built up into giant drift cornices which suddenly collapsed.

0:23:540:24:00

This kind of avalanche kills dozens of people every year in the European Alps,

0:24:080:24:13

and even occasionally in Scotland.

0:24:130:24:15

But you would not expect one in the sleepy, picture-postcard town of Lewes,

0:24:230:24:30

in southern England.

0:24:300:24:31

Yet, in 1836, this was the location of the deadliest avalanche in British history.

0:24:330:24:41

This is the plaque that remembers the people that died.

0:24:570:25:01

And William and Jane and Mary,

0:25:010:25:04

just children and old men that were dying in this terrible accident.

0:25:040:25:08

This was a time way before official meteorological records.

0:25:150:25:19

So the only way we have any idea of the extreme weather

0:25:190:25:23

that led up to the disaster on December 27th 1836

0:25:230:25:27

is thanks to a private diary held in the Met Office archives.

0:25:270:25:33

Looking at these diaries, you see that overall it was a pretty average month,

0:25:330:25:37

until we got towards the end of the month, towards Christmas itself,

0:25:370:25:40

where it looks like there was an awful lot of snow in a short space of time, and those drift heights,

0:25:400:25:45

anything up to 30 or 50 feet in some parts of the country.

0:25:450:25:48

I mean, depths of 50 feet, if you imagine that walking along the pavement

0:25:480:25:52

and you think how a house is, that's a pretty high snowdrift to be having to deal with.

0:25:520:25:58

Although snow of this depth can be a problem,

0:26:020:26:05

the real danger was the direction of a blizzard from the north east.

0:26:050:26:10

This whisked thousands of tonnes of snow across the South Downs.

0:26:100:26:15

When it reached the top of the cliffs, 300 feet above Lewes,

0:26:150:26:20

it accumulated into a large snowdrift overhanging the town.

0:26:200:26:25

Up where the Snowdrop Inn is now, there would have been a row of seven cottages called Bolters Row.

0:26:290:26:34

They were for the very poorest people living in Lewes.

0:26:350:26:38

They were very densely populated.

0:26:380:26:40

We know there were 40 people living there,

0:26:400:26:44

and 11 children in one household alone.

0:26:440:26:46

We're not used to large amounts of snow down here and I'm sure the children were enjoying it,

0:26:470:26:52

I suspect people were admiring the snow coming over the cliff, thinking how wonderful it looked.

0:26:520:26:57

One man, though, a local publican, was worried about the snow.

0:26:580:27:01

There'd been cracks discovered in it the day before.

0:27:010:27:04

And he decided to climb up and see how bad the danger was.

0:27:040:27:07

And as he got up there, he saw more and more cracks appear and the avalanche happened there and then.

0:27:100:27:15

He was running back down to warn people and as he ran the snow came down beside him.

0:27:150:27:20

The avalanche hit with so much force that when it reached the row of houses,

0:27:220:27:27

they exploded.

0:27:270:27:29

There was enormous devastation there. The cottages were torn to pieces.

0:27:350:27:40

It was a scene of total destruction.

0:27:530:27:57

Surprisingly, several women and children were dug out alive.

0:27:570:28:02

Tragically, five adults and three children were killed.

0:28:020:28:07

It is just terrifying just to think of them trapped under that snow.

0:28:090:28:14

In the churchyard there's a mass grave, but it's completely unmarked.

0:28:200:28:24

This is the only memory, kind of memorial stone for these people.

0:28:240:28:29

And I know there was a baby that was taken out of here alive.

0:28:310:28:35

And I've actually had the descendant of that baby, who's been in this church.

0:28:350:28:40

So how do we know if the heavy snowfall

0:28:430:28:46

that caused an avalanche in the south of England will happen again?

0:28:460:28:50

Without records, we have no patterns and no way of knowing what to predict and what to prepare for.

0:28:500:28:57

In Britain, it's thanks to just one man that we have any official record of snowfall at all.

0:29:030:29:09

His name was Leo Claude Wallace Bonacina.

0:29:090:29:14

He was so obsessed with snow that his friends nicknamed him "the Abominable Snowman".

0:29:140:29:21

Leo Bonacina was a typical late Victorian, eccentric gentleman.

0:29:210:29:27

His main interest was weather and especially snow, and in a cold winter, he'd tramp around London

0:29:270:29:35

from Hampstead Heath to Richmond Park,

0:29:350:29:37

measuring the snow depth in different parts of the capital.

0:29:370:29:41

By going though private diaries, old newspaper reports and railway company logs,

0:29:410:29:48

along with his own up-to-date measurements,

0:29:480:29:51

Bonacina spent a lifetime piecing together a record of snowfall in Britain.

0:29:510:29:57

He produced a catalogue of exactly what snow conditions were like

0:29:570:30:03

over the UK as a whole in every year from 1875

0:30:030:30:08

until his death in 1975.

0:30:080:30:11

In other words very, very nearly 100 years of records.

0:30:110:30:14

And Bonacina's records reveal a surprising pattern in British snowfall.

0:30:150:30:21

We seem to think that a typical British winter will inevitably bring snowfall, little or much,

0:30:210:30:28

but Bonacina's records actually show that a snowy winter

0:30:280:30:32

is actually quite a rare animal in the British Isles.

0:30:320:30:35

They don't happen all that often.

0:30:350:30:37

There have been many periods in the past where we have had

0:30:370:30:40

three or four winters without very much snow at all.

0:30:400:30:43

But then, along comes a really good snowy winter

0:30:430:30:47

just to remind us that it can happen.

0:30:470:30:49

The winter of all winters was in 1963.

0:31:030:31:08

The unprecedented Arctic conditions would break all the records.

0:31:080:31:12

The sea froze over.

0:31:120:31:14

95,000 miles of roads became snowbound.

0:31:150:31:20

Milk froze, water pipes cracked and fresh water had to be rationed.

0:31:200:31:26

NEWSREEL: Tanks were set up in the street, but even they froze up.

0:31:260:31:29

And you needed hot water to thaw out the tap, before you could get cold water to make hot water with.

0:31:290:31:34

This was the coldest winter for centuries,

0:31:340:31:38

in fact, the coldest since the bitter winters of the Little Ice Age.

0:31:380:31:41

It was in this blizzard that three people died battling against the snow

0:31:410:31:45

and two more were suffocated in a snowbound car.

0:31:450:31:49

Hundreds of towns and villages were cut off.

0:31:530:31:57

For some, the only way to survive was to walk miles in the snow.

0:31:570:32:02

Others had to be carried to safety.

0:32:020:32:05

By mid-January, food supplies were dangerously low all across the country.

0:32:150:32:20

Farmers struggled to harvest their crops and feed their livestock.

0:32:220:32:27

If they couldn't reach the animals, they would die.

0:32:270:32:32

On the Isle of Wight, Christine Broom was a 16-year-old farm worker.

0:32:350:32:40

She'd been in charge of cattle that were now stranded on a farm six miles from her home.

0:32:450:32:51

The only way to get to the livestock was to walk through the deep snow.

0:32:520:32:57

This is the first time Christine has re-traced her steps for 50 years.

0:33:020:33:08

Once I'd started walking, I realised that it was absolutely horrendous.

0:33:080:33:14

There were drifts of 10, 15 feet deep and you couldn't see any houses,

0:33:140:33:20

a lot of the telegraph poles, you only saw the top of them,

0:33:200:33:23

you actually trod on the roofs of cars.

0:33:230:33:26

Unusually still, you didn't see anyone, you didn't see any animals or any people at all.

0:33:260:33:32

It just seemed to be me walking,

0:33:320:33:34

and it was just like a wilderness of snow.

0:33:340:33:36

It was very quiet, quite haunting, really.

0:33:360:33:39

A journey that on a sunny summer's day takes just over 60 minutes, took Christine six hours.

0:33:450:33:51

She then had several more hours of farm work.

0:33:510:33:54

The snow was right nearly to the top of the barn here and everything was just covered in snow.

0:33:540:34:00

It was really hard work to get the feed to the cattle and get the cattle milked.

0:34:000:34:04

And when I'd finished at five o'clock I had to trudge all the way home,

0:34:040:34:09

and it was another six hours until I got back to Lake.

0:34:090:34:12

And it was really hard work.

0:34:120:34:14

After this 12-hour round trip, Christine had to do it all again the next morning.

0:34:170:34:23

Remarkably, she kept this up for six long weeks.

0:34:230:34:28

The winter of '62-'63 was really, really bad.

0:34:280:34:31

It was the coldest over the UK as whole since 1740.

0:34:310:34:37

The first snow fell in Scotland on Christmas Day and over England and Wales on Boxing Day.

0:34:370:34:44

And over most of England and Wales, the snow stayed on the ground until the beginning of March.

0:34:440:34:50

In other words, something like 70 consecutive days.

0:34:500:34:53

It was the longest cold spell on record.

0:34:550:34:57

The British adapted quickly to the new conditions.

0:35:000:35:04

# Snow, snow, snow, snow, snow

0:35:040:35:10

# It won't be long before we'll all be there with snow

0:35:100:35:16

# Snow, snow

0:35:160:35:19

# I wanna wash my hands, my face and hair with snow

0:35:190:35:24

# Snow

0:35:270:35:29

# I want to clear a path and lift a spade of snow

0:35:290:35:34

# Snow, oh... #

0:35:340:35:37

I could see the adults were worried about it, they were kind of frowning

0:35:370:35:40

and thinking the world was coming to an end.

0:35:400:35:43

We'd just had the Cuban missile crisis, the Cold War was going on and we were frozen solid.

0:35:430:35:47

But for the kids it was fantastic, we'd go out sledging for three or four days on the run.

0:35:470:35:52

In fact my mum said to me, "This might never end, you know".

0:35:520:35:55

Ian's mum was almost right.

0:35:580:36:00

The arctic winter gripped Britain for nearly three months.

0:36:000:36:05

The reasons for this phenomenon lay in the unusual meteorological conditions over the British Isles.

0:36:050:36:12

What happens in a typical British winter

0:36:120:36:15

is that you have low pressure in the Iceland region,

0:36:150:36:18

and high pressure around the Azores,

0:36:180:36:22

and between the two, you have south-westerly winds blowing from the Atlantic

0:36:220:36:26

across the British Isles,

0:36:260:36:28

and that gives typical British winter weather of rain and wind and temperatures above freezing.

0:36:280:36:34

What happened in '63 was that everything was reversed.

0:36:340:36:37

On December 21st, this Siberian anti-cyclone started to move in our direction.

0:36:370:36:43

But the westerly Atlantic winds that usually keep it at bay suddenly weakened,

0:36:430:36:49

and the Siberian anti-cyclone moved right across to us, and by Dec 22nd,

0:36:490:36:55

it had hit us, it was here and the Big Freeze had begun.

0:36:550:37:00

There were several occasions, especially during February,

0:37:000:37:04

when the Atlantic tried to assert itself,

0:37:040:37:06

but it never got further than south-west England and Wales and Northern Ireland.

0:37:060:37:11

And these regions were the battleground during February,

0:37:110:37:14

between the mild Atlantic air and the cold continental air.

0:37:140:37:18

And as a result, these regions got plastered with snow, time after time.

0:37:180:37:23

In spite of the hardship and cold endured through the winter of 1963,

0:37:260:37:31

there were always those who revelled in the snow.

0:37:310:37:34

If I think of the word snow, what immediately comes to mind is I think I'm about 12 or 13

0:37:440:37:50

and the park that I walk through to get to school was overnight covered in snow.

0:37:500:37:57

And I remember going out with some adult studenty types who were just two doors down from where I lived,

0:37:570:38:03

and we just played in it.

0:38:030:38:05

So snow immediately means play to me, that that what these grown men were doing,

0:38:050:38:12

and me, as a mere teenager, was doing as well.

0:38:120:38:15

It's midnight and there are 6,000 people...

0:38:150:38:18

We may love snow,

0:38:250:38:27

but most of us have no idea of the scientific process of how snow is formed in clouds.

0:38:270:38:32

It could be lots of raindrops joined together and frozen.

0:38:320:38:38

I don't really know the scientific explanation at all for how snowflakes are made at all.

0:38:400:38:44

They could be frozen rain, they could be something else that forms in the upper atmosphere.

0:38:440:38:49

But when rain freezes, it reaches the ground as hail.

0:38:500:38:56

Snow is something altogether different.

0:38:560:38:59

The process that triggers the growth of snow in the clouds remained a mystery until as late as the 1920s.

0:39:000:39:07

Then, scientists discovered that two vital ingredients have to

0:39:070:39:11

interact in clouds at the same time for snow to be produced.

0:39:110:39:16

First, a seed is needed to initiate the growth of the snow flake.

0:39:160:39:21

For snowflakes to grow, you need a nucleus, an ice-forming nucleus

0:39:210:39:26

to start the growth of the ice crystal.

0:39:260:39:28

That's normally something like dust in the atmosphere,

0:39:280:39:31

pollution from combustion, even bacteria,

0:39:310:39:36

are the kinds of particles which will initiate the formation of ice in the atmosphere and the growth of snow.

0:39:360:39:42

Besides a particle such as dust to seed the snow crystals,

0:39:430:39:48

the second ingredient is droplets of super-cooled water.

0:39:480:39:52

This is water that stays liquid below freezing.

0:39:520:39:57

Most people will be surprised to know that water doesn't necessarily freeze

0:39:570:40:01

at zero, which is, after all, the freezing point.

0:40:010:40:04

And what we're going to do is demonstrate this with these test tubes of water.

0:40:070:40:11

Doctor Saunders will cool the water to well below zero degrees

0:40:120:40:18

while carefully monitoring the temperature.

0:40:180:40:20

And we we'll be able to see, with any luck, whether these...

0:40:220:40:25

samples do freeze at zero or not.

0:40:250:40:28

As the water cools down below zero, if it remains liquid, it becomes super-cooled.

0:40:360:40:43

This super-cooled water will now only freeze

0:40:470:40:51

if an ice-triggering nucleus such as dust or pollen is present.

0:40:510:40:56

The smaller the volume of water, as in these test tubes,

0:40:560:41:00

or in water droplets,

0:41:000:41:02

the less likely it is that there will be a particle which can trigger freezing.

0:41:020:41:07

We've got two test tubes which are frozen and two tubes which

0:41:110:41:14

are super-cooled, and they're at minus 11.5 and they're still liquid water.

0:41:140:41:19

To demonstrate how a particle is needed to trigger ice growth,

0:41:240:41:29

Clive adds a speck of ice to the super-cooled water

0:41:290:41:32

to act as a nucleus.

0:41:320:41:34

Fantastic, look at that freezing.

0:41:380:41:40

A second more dramatic experiment uses a super-cooled bubble of soapy water.

0:41:440:41:50

When a nucleus particle is introduced, the ice grows instantly.

0:41:500:41:54

The ability of tiny nucleus particles to trigger ice growth

0:42:130:42:17

is at the heart of the formation of snow.

0:42:170:42:20

Like the super-cooled water in Clive's lab, high in the clouds,

0:42:220:42:27

there are millions of tiny super-cooled water droplets at sub-zero temperatures.

0:42:270:42:32

These droplets slowly evaporate, filling the air with an invisible vapour of water molecules.

0:42:330:42:40

The vapour is carried through the cloud until the water molecules

0:42:420:42:46

make contact with a nucleus particle of dust or pollen.

0:42:460:42:49

As soon as this happens, tiny snow crystals form around the particle.

0:42:520:42:57

These crystals rapidly grow until they fall out of the sky as snow.

0:42:570:43:02

Across the UK, the snow making process in the clouds happens all the time.

0:43:070:43:12

In fact, almost all British rain begins as snow.

0:43:120:43:17

It's only when it's cold enough, we get our weather's most beautiful spectacle.

0:43:200:43:25

Understanding the process behind the formation of snow

0:43:450:43:48

means that scientists at the University of Manchester can create snow fall inside their laboratory.

0:43:480:43:55

Falling out of this chamber are millions and millions of little ice crystals.

0:44:020:44:06

And the hold of the cold room is full of ice crystals.

0:44:060:44:09

These tiny snow crystals have only fallen a short distance through the air,

0:44:130:44:17

so they haven't had enough time to grow into the larger snow needed for skiing.

0:44:170:44:23

# Sleigh bells ring Are you listening

0:44:230:44:26

# In the lane, snow is glistening

0:44:260:44:31

# It's a beautiful sight We're happy tonight

0:44:310:44:36

# Walking in a winter wonderland. #

0:44:360:44:39

To create alpine ski conditions indoors, you need real snowflakes.

0:44:390:44:44

That was the task faced by a remarkable British engineer,

0:44:440:44:49

and he found a way recreate one of nature's most complex processes,

0:44:490:44:54

indoors, on a massive scale.

0:44:540:44:57

His name is Malcolm Clulow.

0:45:120:45:15

A one-time refrigeration engineer,

0:45:150:45:18

he realised that the only way to get the skis to slide properly was to produce real snow.

0:45:180:45:23

Malcolm cleverly combined science and technology,

0:45:230:45:27

and has made Britain the world's biggest producer of snow.

0:45:270:45:30

We were approached by an English lord who owned a dry ski slope,

0:45:330:45:36

and because he had a great business in the winter,

0:45:360:45:39

and a bad business in the summer,

0:45:390:45:42

he wanted to cover his dry ski slope with real snow.

0:45:420:45:45

And I quickly found out that no-one had made snow indoors at this time.

0:45:450:45:49

This was 1988.

0:45:490:45:50

And it seems magic, but to me as an engineer, it's pretty simple.

0:45:520:45:56

What Malcolm needed to do was recreate the conditions found in snow-producing clouds.

0:45:560:46:02

First, he built a refrigerated building in which he could cool the air temperature to well below zero.

0:46:020:46:08

Second, as we know from Clive's experiments,

0:46:120:46:15

Malcolm introduced the two ingredients needed to create real snow.

0:46:150:46:20

Thousands of super-cooled water droplets and snow forming nuclei.

0:46:200:46:24

The ingredients are introduced into the cold air

0:46:270:46:30

using a specially-designed snow-making machine, high up in the roof.

0:46:300:46:34

First of all, our snowmakers make a cloud of these particles.

0:46:360:46:40

We then open up the nozzles.

0:46:400:46:43

And the nuclei get drawn in to this plume, immediately triggering the freezing process.

0:46:450:46:51

And the crystals form immediately.

0:46:510:46:53

The key to Malcolm's snow making success is placing the snow machines as high up in the roof as possible.

0:46:530:47:00

This way the snow crystals have enough time to fall through the air, just like they do in nature.

0:47:000:47:06

We're recreating nature,

0:47:120:47:15

it's pure magic to make snow indoors.

0:47:150:47:17

The attraction of Malcolm's snow domes,

0:47:210:47:24

which he has built all over the world, is you can predict exactly when it's going to snow.

0:47:240:47:28

It's not so easy for weather forecasters in Britain.

0:47:310:47:35

Because our island sits at a volatile junction between major weather systems,

0:47:350:47:39

predicting snow is notoriously difficult.

0:47:390:47:43

Forecasting snow in the UK is one of the forecaster's biggest headaches,

0:47:470:47:51

it's a headache because if you get it wrong, it tends to cause a lot of disruption

0:47:510:47:56

and everyone notices.

0:47:560:47:57

The road and rail networks grind to a halt, the airports too.

0:47:570:48:00

It's not like making a mistake with rain.

0:48:000:48:03

If the ground is covered in white and you haven't said that's what's gonna happen,

0:48:030:48:07

there tends to be a pretty big enquiry.

0:48:070:48:09

Towards the east, places like Eastern Europe and Scandinavia,

0:48:090:48:13

they get cold winters, they know it's going to snow because the temperatures are well below freezing,

0:48:130:48:18

but for us here in the UK, it's always much more marginal.

0:48:180:48:22

It's Britain unique climate that leads to our snow frequently taking us by surprise.

0:48:220:48:28

This is no bad thing when it comes to our love of telling stories about the weather.

0:48:300:48:36

Saturday and then Sunday was the...

0:48:440:48:47

31st, 31st of...

0:48:470:48:50

May, yep.

0:48:500:48:51

It started on 31st May.

0:48:510:48:53

We were a bit younger, the last time we did this, you know.

0:48:550:48:59

In 1975, Derbyshire played Lancashire at Buxton cricket ground.

0:48:590:49:04

Two days into the match, June 2nd, was a day never to be forgotten.

0:49:040:49:10

The annual county match was the big thing for this club.

0:49:100:49:15

The lead up to this match at the end of May, very dry, good preparation of wicket.

0:49:150:49:22

For Buxton, it was a great day, and it gave the whole area

0:49:230:49:29

the picture of perfection for a county cricket match - sun, warmth.

0:49:290:49:35

Crowds start to come in, got a big crowd, 3,000, 4,000 people on the ground.

0:49:350:49:40

Happy smiling faces.

0:49:400:49:42

Some good cricket played, certainly by Lancashire batting anyway.

0:49:450:49:49

They put on over 400 runs.

0:49:490:49:52

Britain's most famous umpire, Dickie Bird, was in charge.

0:49:520:49:56

June, I would say, is one of the best months...

0:49:560:50:00

of the summer for weather to play cricket in.

0:50:000:50:03

-All of a sudden...

-Things went dark.

0:50:030:50:07

And white stuff started appearing out of the skies.

0:50:120:50:16

Bits of white, and...

0:50:180:50:21

nobody could believe it, it started snowing.

0:50:210:50:25

All we could do was look in amazement.

0:50:250:50:28

I couldn't believe it.

0:50:300:50:31

I thought it was not right, this,

0:50:310:50:34

Buxton was under about six inches of snow!

0:50:340:50:37

I thought, I can't believe this, we're in June!

0:50:490:50:52

Main reaction by the players was like big kids, I mean, snow?

0:50:520:50:57

For West Indian player, Clive Lloyd, it would be a day to remember.

0:50:570:51:02

Clive Lloyd had not seen snow as far as we knew.

0:51:020:51:06

Clive was very, very excited and we kept saying, these are snowballs, Clive.

0:51:060:51:11

He's making snowballs and they're having snowball raids out here on the middle.

0:51:110:51:18

So what caused this freak event, a one-of-a-kind since records began?

0:51:190:51:25

The big high pressure system which had been sitting over the UK for a few days

0:51:250:51:29

shifted out into the Atlantic.

0:51:290:51:32

And that opened the back door for a northerly plunge to come all the way down from the Arctic Circle,

0:51:320:51:38

well within the Arctic Circle,

0:51:380:51:40

from within a few hundred kilometres of the North Pole.

0:51:400:51:45

1975 was really a once-in-a-lifetime event.

0:51:450:51:49

You can see the ground now, it's lashing it down with rain, it's under water.

0:51:530:51:58

You would expect that in our English summers.

0:51:580:52:01

But no way would you expect six inches of snow...in June!

0:52:010:52:08

And notice boards outside the ground, saying no play today because of snow.

0:52:080:52:14

It's a surprise to see snow in June, but there is one day in the year

0:52:170:52:22

when all of Britain hopes it will snow.

0:52:220:52:25

Christmas Day.

0:52:250:52:27

The image of somehow the peace and quietness of Christmas time under a thick blanket of snow,

0:52:270:52:32

that is probably my enduring favourite image of snow.

0:52:320:52:35

The dream of a white Christmas is woven into the British culture.

0:52:460:52:51

But where did it all begin?

0:52:510:52:53

1815,

0:52:530:52:55

the eruption of the volcano Tambora.

0:52:570:53:00

This massive volcanic explosion, along with the impressionable mind of a young boy,

0:53:050:53:10

would result in a book that still fuels our passion for a White Christmas.

0:53:100:53:15

"And they stood in the city streets on Christmas morning,

0:53:150:53:19

"where, for the weather was severe,

0:53:190:53:21

"the people made a rough, but brisk and not unpleasant kind of music

0:53:210:53:25

"in scraping the snow from the pavement in front of their dwellings and from the tops of their houses.

0:53:250:53:31

"Whence it was mad delight to the boys to see it come plumping down

0:53:310:53:36

"into the road below and splitting into artificial little snowstorms."

0:53:360:53:43

The book was called A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

0:53:430:53:47

We can say as a shortcut that Dickens invented the idea of a white Christmas.

0:53:470:53:52

It's a little bit of a shortcut, because I don't think,

0:53:520:53:55

no matter how great a writer is, we can actually say he invented it.

0:53:550:53:58

But what we've done is construct this lovely story,

0:53:580:54:01

this myth, if you like, on the back of A Christmas Carol.

0:54:010:54:05

We can tell what happened during Charles Dickens' childhood from the chemistry of ice cores.

0:54:120:54:17

His boyhood encounters with snow would shape the writing of A Christmas Carol.

0:54:170:54:22

Dickens managed to be born in quite an interesting period as far as climate was concerned.

0:54:220:54:27

If we look at the Antarctic ice cores, we can see a huge sulphuric acid spike in 1815.

0:54:270:54:32

This increase in atmospheric sulphur indicates the eruption of the Indonesian volcano, Tambora.

0:54:340:54:42

The largest eruption in recorded history.

0:54:420:54:45

It put an enormous amount of material into the atmosphere, and that blocked out some of the sunlight,

0:54:470:54:52

causing the atmosphere to cool and therefore the climate cooled.

0:54:520:54:56

And, in fact, the year following Tambora in 1816 is generally known as the year without a summer.

0:54:560:55:02

So in his boyhood, I would have expected him to see quite a lot of very snowy winters.

0:55:020:55:06

Every Christmas, I think, would have been a snowy one for him.

0:55:060:55:10

In fact, Dickens saw six white Christmases in the first ten years of his life.

0:55:100:55:16

Since then, his classic story has helped fuel our yearning for the white Christmas dream.

0:55:160:55:22

# It's the most wonderful time of the year

0:55:240:55:29

# With the kids jingle belling And everyone telling you

0:55:300:55:35

# Be of good cheer... #

0:55:350:55:37

We even part with large amounts of money every year at the bookies wishing for snow on December 25th.

0:55:370:55:43

But in the UK, what exactly constitutes an official white Christmas?

0:55:460:55:51

The definition of white Christmas, it can actually on the day not look entirely different to this,

0:55:510:55:56

because the definition is pretty much driven by the bookies,

0:55:560:55:59

and it actually comes down to just one flake of snow falling

0:55:590:56:03

between midnight on Christmas Day and midnight on Boxing Day.

0:56:030:56:07

And that one flake of snow can melt on its way down

0:56:070:56:09

before it touches the ground so it doesn't mean lying snow, it just means snow has been observed.

0:56:090:56:14

# I'm dreaming

0:56:140:56:19

# Of a white Christmas... #

0:56:190:56:24

Unlike the six White Christmases Dickens saw before he was ten,

0:56:260:56:31

in London there have only been six in the last 50 years,

0:56:310:56:35

and they are becoming increasingly rare.

0:56:350:56:38

How many here have seen a white Christmas?

0:56:380:56:42

No.

0:56:420:56:44

The most alarming indication that the British white Christmas may become a thing of the past

0:56:450:56:50

comes from scientific evidence within the polar snow cores.

0:56:500:56:56

I think if we look at the cores we're collecting in the Antarctic and see the levels of carbon dioxide

0:56:560:57:01

and how intimately they are related to temperature

0:57:010:57:03

and the fact that carbon dioxide is still rising in the atmosphere relentlessly,

0:57:030:57:08

and it's going to continue rising for the next 50 to 100 years.

0:57:080:57:11

I think it's absolutely certain that temperature will continue to rise.

0:57:110:57:15

It may well be that we never go back to the white Christmases that I remember from my youth.

0:57:150:57:19

It's quite a though, isn't it, that with global warming, for children in this country,

0:57:190:57:24

the only way they are going to experience snow is either through its Disneyfication

0:57:240:57:29

or through travel.

0:57:290:57:31

So you'll always be a snow tourist.

0:57:310:57:34

So you won't see your back yard turned into this snowscape.

0:57:340:57:39

We're going away to see the snow or we're going to the movies to see the snow.

0:57:390:57:43

How peculiar.

0:57:430:57:44

Snowy winters in Britain

0:57:510:57:54

are becoming much less frequent.

0:57:540:57:56

Yet, because of the meteorological conditions over the British Isles,

0:57:590:58:03

we will always remain vulnerable to a freak winter

0:58:030:58:07

that brings polar temperatures when we least expect it.

0:58:070:58:11

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:460:58:49

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:490:58:52

Documentary series about the weather. This episode looks at snow, that most fleeting and beautiful of elements which endlessly fascinates us.

Using rare footage, we journey into the microscopically small world of the snow crystal, finding out how a snowflake forms and why it is always six-sided.

The science of snow tests British Rail's claim that the snow that crippled their rolling stock in 1991 really was the 'wrong type of snow', and explains how, thanks to a scientific discovery, a British company became the world's leading producer of snow.


Download Subtitles

SRT

ASS