Picture of a women in the snow, wearing a cold and mittens.  Collecting a blowing snow in her hands

Low temperatures and heavy snow

Snow is one of the UK’s most striking weather phenomena, causing a transformation of the world around us, but can also lead to the potential for disruption. 

What is snow?

Snow is defined as the ‘solid precipitation which occurs in a variety of minute ice crystals at temperatures well below 0C, but as large snowflakes at temperatures near 0C. 

It forms when tiny ice crystals in clouds stick together to become snowflakes.  If enough crystals stick together, they’ll become heavy enough to fall to the ground.

Why does the UK get cold weather?

To get cold air in the UK, we need winds from the North or East.  Northerly winds bring the air straight from the arctic and over a cold sea to reach us; in Winter Easterly winds are cold because they arrive from the cold continental interior of mainland Europe.

However, cold weather can be as a result of established high pressure.  Providing the skies are clear, temperatures can fall gradually as the sun gets weaker with little cloud at night to keep the heat in.

Did you know that temperatures inland are usually higher than the coast in the summer, and lower than the coast in the winter?

Who is most at risk?

  • Anyone with a pre-existing medical condition such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease;
  • Rural communities without immediate access to local facilities such as shops etc;
  • Elderly population;
  • Those socially, or economically disadvantaged;
  • Rough sleepers.

What are the consequences?

  • Damage to homes, possessions, businesses and infrastructure
  • Transport routes affected, potentially leading to stranded vehicles and/or passengers
  • Interruptions to utilities
  • Loss of life or injury including increase in fractures and hypothermia cases
  • Increased impact to individuals’ mental well being and social isolation
  • Evacuation and/or longer-term shelter of people
  • Damage to agricultural and livestock businesses

When has it happened?

  • Winter of 2009/2010 saw a prolonged spell of cold wintry weather, lasting approximately a month
  • March 2013 experienced a prolonged spell of below average temperatures bring bitterly cold winds
  • Beast from the East 2018/2019 was a spell of severe winter weather with very low temperatures and significant snowfalls.

Preparing yourself and community

The Met Office provide lots of useful information about preparing for severe weather. make sure you understand the weather forecast and check for weather warnings: Met Office website

You may find yourself stuck inside for a few days, make sure you have enough essential items at home. Use our grab bag checklist as a starting point: Grab bag checklist

If you consider yourself or a family member to be vulnerable, check whether you are eligible for extra support from your utility providers by registering with their Priority Services Register.

Preparing for a community is essential, even more so if you are rural and become cut off due to snow.

You District or Parish/Town Council will provide grit bins in your community –  remember these are for use on the public highway and foot ways only.  The locations of grit bins can be found here: Grit bin map

Look out for each other, some may struggle more than others due to social or economic isolation.

Encourage your community to plan together before an emergency happens, take a look at our Community Resilience page: Community Resilience in Norfolk

Preparing your home

Check that everything is working, it’s a good idea to get your heating system serviced every year – make sure gas heating is serviced by a qualified Gas-Safe engineer. Find a Gas Safe engineer.

Pipes can burst during freezing weather, identify where your homes stopcock is and note it in your Household Emergency Plan in case you need to turn it off.

Check your smoke alarms are working, why not test it every Tuesday?

You can request a grit bin; if you live in Norwich City, Great Yarmouth or the Borough Council of Kings Lynn area speak with you district Council.  If you live in the Broadland and South Norfolk, Breckland or North Norfolk areas speak with your local town or parish council.

Considerations for business owners

If your a business owner, consider developing a business continuity plan that identifies any risks that may impact your business, the mitigation’s you can put into place and actions for responding to disruption. You can find more information here: preparing your business.

Prepare for staff absences, parents may need time off if their children can’t go to school. Is it safe for staff to travel into work?

Severe weather sometimes means power outages, how would your business operate with no access to power?

Responding to low temperatures and heavy snow

Did you know a tablespoon of salt will treat an area of 1m2?

It’s important you keep yourself warm.  If you can, heat your home to 18C, if you’re struggling with the increasing cost of energy check whether your entitled to any financial support.  You can also check whether you have a warm space nearby: https://warmspaces.org/spaces

If you’re sitting inside, wrap up with warm layers or a blanket, you could also use a hot water bottle or heat bag.

We know heating and lighting your home is becoming increasingly expensive, if you choose to use candles make sure they are stored in proper holders and away from materials that can catch fire.

During severe weather you may experience outages of utilities, make sure you report these to your provider. If you’ve registered yourself as vulnerable on their priority services register, they will let you know of the additional support you are entitled to.

It’s best not to travel during any type of severe weather but if you must use your car make sure you and your vehicle are prepared for the journey. Before setting off make sure you have enough fuel, screen wash, suitable tyres and pack warm clothes.  Remember to tell someone where you are going and what time you hope to arrive, driving to the conditions of the road.

Don’t be afraid of clearing snow or ice, here is some advice: https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/warnings-and-advice/seasonal-advice/your-home/clearing-paths-and-driveways

And finally, tune into BBC Radio 2 and 4 for the latest weather updates.