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Snowing Like The Dickens: Little Ice Age Returns to U.K.?

By Jesse Ferrell, Meteorologist/Community Director
12/21/2010, 8:11:53 AM

UPDATE 12/21: The European travel nightmare continues; London Heathrow dropped to 16 F, the coldest temperature in years, where thousands of travelers are stranded. Mark Vogan's blog has more information from his location in Scotland, as well as the United Kingdom.

ORIGINAL REPORT: Why do we dream of a White Christmas? meteorologist Alex Sosnowski coined an amusing headline this morning when he posted our latest story about the United Kingdom cold and snow on our Facebook Page. He said: "Cold and snowy like the "Dickens" in the U.K..." Turns out the phrase has nothing to do with Charles Dickens, but the weather does.

Several years ago I wrote a blog entry entitled "Climate Origins of a White Christmas." In it, I proved that most Holiday (Thanksgiving and Christmas) lore had its genesis during the Little Ice Age. For example, take the classic story "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, always portrayed as a snowy scene. Why? The story was based around 1822, during a time of frigid climatic hardship.


The BBC says: "In the past, white Christmastimes were fairly common, with snow falling and lying on the ground. From the middle ages to the mid-19th century, winter temperatures were much lower. There was a greater frequency of easterly weather conditions caused by winds crossing continental Europe bringing cold air and harsh frosts. In fact, frost fairs were held regularly in London on a frozen over river Thames from 1564 to 1814."

If the U.K. has a White Christmas this year, it will be the second in a row and fifth since 2000 according to this PDF from the U.K. Met Office. Does this mean that the country is returning to the Little Ice Age? Maybe not - White Christmases were actually more common in the 1990's than 2000's, though there is some evidence to support that the cold spell this month was the second-worst since 1659!


Read on to find out the meteorological significance of these holiday gems:

"Twas the Night Before Christmas" (1820s): December snow was typical then in New York City; reindeer (Arctic animals) aren't found at this latitude anymore.

"Over the River and Through the Woods" (1840s): November snow was typical then in Boston.

The Song "A White Christmas" (1942): Was done later but they were "dreaming" about stories their grandparents told them from the 1800s.

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