The big freeze in Reading

By Stephen Burt, Department of Meteorology

Snow on the ground in Reading’s Atmospheric Observatory site

Weather records began at Reading University College (as it was then) back in 1901, but in all the years since we’ve never had a March day as cold as yesterday, Thursday 1 March 2018.

At noon yesterday, the temperature stood at just -3.5 °C, and with a strong north-easterly wind the windchill value made it feel more like -10 to -12 °C – approaching frostbite thresholds. Snow fell and drifted throughout the day, although fortunately Reading didn’t see as much snow as in other parts of the country, and the temperature rose very slowly throughout the day and into the night as less cold air associated with storm ‘Emma’ began to push in from the south.

The temperature finally reached a balmy (or it is barmy? This is the first month of Spring, after all!) -0.9 °C at 2am, according to our automatic weather station within the campus’s Atmospheric Observatory. In over a century of weather records, this was only the third March day to remain below freezing throughout, and easily surpassed the previous coldest March day – 6 March 1942, when the day’s highest temperature was only -0.6 °C.

This has been a week for weather records. On Sunday (25 February), we had the sunniest February day since our sunshine records commenced in 1956, with 9.6 hours of unbroken dawn to dusk sunshine – a pretty impressive total for a summer day, never mind February. This helped push February’s sunshine total up to 123 hours, our second-sunniest February on record, and a total which actually surpasses some recent summer months – June 2016, for example, which managed just 116 hours despite much longer days.

Unfortunately, clear skies at this time of year also bring cold nights, and on Wednesday morning the air temperature fell to -7.6 °C, the coldest morning for six years and the lowest temperature so late in the winter since 1947 (when -11.3 °C was recorded as late as 7 March, following the bitterly cold February of that year).

One thermometer just above the snow surface fell to -15.2 °C on Wednesday morning, the lowest ground temperature for over 30 years (-16.5 °C was recorded during February 1986). Brrr! Roll on Spring!