The Big Freeze Drought - 1962 to 1964

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Two cold and dry winters led to water shortages, frozen pipes and standpipes in the third driest winter since 1910.

Audio: '63 was one of the worst I can remember. Everything froze up

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Weather

Rivers

Groundwater

Memories

Weather

This period is best remembered for the very cold winter of 1962/63, and along with the protracted cold spell there was little precipitation (this ranks as the third driest winter in a series from 1910/11 up to 2016/17). There were actually several short sequences of dry months during this period, which stand out well on the graph below: first of all came February/March and June in 1962. It was much drier than average in October 1963 to February 1964 (see separate map), and the following winter (Dec 1963 to February 1964) was again unusually dry (actually the driest winter since 1910/11). The period from July to November 1964 was also very dry (see separate map), and there was little respite from the dry conditions before the following spring.

The plot below shows the monthly North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) Index for the periods before, during and after the drought. The NAO is a prominent teleconnection pattern in all seasons, and strong positive phases tend to be associationed with above-average temperatures in northern Europe, whilst negative phases of the NAO tend to be associated with below-average temperatures. There is more information available here.

 

 

Rivers

The multi-year drought event from 1962 to 1965 consisted of two fairly distinct drought episodes, winter 1962/63, and winter 1963/64 through to summer 1965. The event began in late 1962 across the west of the UK, also affecting parts of central and north-eastern England. Most parts of the UK recovered temporarily in 1963, though deficits lingered in some parts of Severn-Trent region, south-west England and south Wales throughout the year, before the drought became significantly more severe in early 1964. The drought was at its maximum spatial extent from December 1963 to February 1964. Throughout 1964 the drought tracked from the north-west to the south-east, with Severn-Trent and north-east England affected for the full duration of the year. Streamflow deficits in the south-east persisted into 1965, with nationwide recovery by the end of the year.

The 1962-1965 event ranks highly in terms of drought duration when calculated over 3 month accumulation period in the Severn-Trent region when compared with other events over the 1891-2015 period. When a 12 month accumulation period is used, this event stands out as one of the longest over the 1891-2015 period across most of the UK. This event is not as long as the 1975/76 event in Scotland, but lies quite consistently within the top 3 longest events of the past 125 years for England and Wales. The maximum intensity of the event is also ranked more highly when considering the longer 12 month accumulation period, than when calculated over 3 months, lying within the top 5 for many catchments in England and Wales, particularly in south-west England and south Wales, and northern England. The mean deficits of this event are not so highly ranked, though it does rank within the top 10 for many catchments in England and Wales.

 

Groundwater

During this episode groundwater levels were only significantly affected during 1965 following the limited recharge that occurred during the winter of 1964-1965. The Chalk was mainly affected primarily in the northeast (e.g. Dalton Holme) and east (e.g. Redlands Hall), although groundwater levels were also slightly lower in the Chilterns (e.g. Rockley) and southern most Chalk (e.g. Compton House).

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Memories

"Our water was being turned off so many hours a day. I can remeber at certain parts there were standpipes put out and people went and collected their water from there. As a child, I had known very bad winters. Back in '63 was one of the worst I can remember. Everything froze up, everything froze up. And they would... You would go out into the streets. They'd have the standpipes there for you because you wouldn't get no water, otherwise. Everybody's pipes froze. Impossible. I remember going to a neighbour opposite my nan, with her. She managed to have a trickle of water through, and we managed to fill a pitcher up and something." HDOHPS0011RPALNM

Audio: '63 was one of the worst I can remember. Everything froze up