The worst April can do
The 1908 snowstorm

by Philip Eden


One of the most outrageous weather events April has ever given us occurred in 1908. Four days of heavy snow hit many parts of southern Britain from the 23rd-26th, while Scotland and northern England endured unprecedentedly severe night frosts. Early on the 24th the mercury sank to -12.8C at Garforth in Yorkshire and at Perth in Scotland and the following morning a reading of -12.2C was logged at Corstophine, near Edinburgh. These remain the latest dates for temperatures below -10C anywhere in the UK.


Snow had already fallen on Easter Day, April 19, then after a milder interlude the first of the prolonged snowstorms hit East Anglia on Thursday 23rd. Newmarket Races were abandoned mid-afternoon, and the following morning snow lay 22cm deep there, and up to 15cm deep elsewhere in the region. Cloudless skies and brilliant sunshine brought a rapid thaw by midday, but clouds gathered again later in the afternoon, and snow set in across southern England during the evening.


A phenomenal blizzard raged all day on the 25th across Wessex, the Thames Valley, and much of the Midlands. In a ferocious snow squall that afternoon the cruiser 'Gladiator' sank in Southampton Water after it was holed following a collision with another vessel. Worst hit by the snowstorm were north Hampshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire, and in the district bounded by Andover, Whitchurch and Kingsclere snow lay over 60cm deep at the end of the storm. Even in the city of Oxford the official observer noted a maximum depth of 42cm, the heaviest snowfall in any month there since February 1888, and not equalled since, while in Southampton the fall amounted to 37cm.


These days, a few centimetres of slush in January seems to be regarded as a freak snowstorm in some sectors of the media; one wonders what they would make of a 60cm fall in April.