The harsh winter of 1962/1963

Milking stools and old car bonnets were used as makeshift toboggans.

Last week's cold spell and the one before Christmas were a mere trifle compared to some winters of the past. The winter of 1962/1963 was savage, the coldest for more than 200 years outstripping even 'white 1947' for bitter temperatures.

It began freezing on Christmas Day in 1962 and barely relented until March. By early January 1963 much of Britain and the eastern part of Ireland were blanketed in snow. The west of Ireland was largely unaffected by snow until late January and early February when there were a number of heavy falls.
Temperatures in Mayo remained stuck below freezing point for all of January and much of February which meant that most of the smaller lakes were completely frozen over.

Iced over ponds became a playground for the young and young of heart. Forget skates. All one needed was a pair of hobnailed boots to send one whizzing across the ice for a great distance.

As a nine year old growing up in east Mayo. I remember cloudless days spent in an overcoat which usually ended with the sun going down in a ball of fire in the southwest. Then the stairs came out and twinkled magically as temperatures plunged well below zero.

One of the chores every morning was to break the ice in the barrel which took water from the roof of the house. Some days one needed a ‘crowbar' to smash the accumulation.

Reports reached us that Urlaur Lake now the source for the Kilmovee Group Water Scheme, had frozen over. Most exciting of all was the news that somebody had driven a tractor across the ice from one side of the lake to the other.

Although villages in the east of the country were cut off by snowdrifts and food and medical supplies had to be airlifted in, the west escaped the worst of the blizzards.
However, it did snow on a number of occasions and fine, dusty, stuff it was too, small, powdery, flakes, great for longevity.

Youngsters used makeshift toboggans. Our's was a milking stool turned upside down. Years later, in-laws in Castlebar would tell me how they would borrow old car bonnets from Josie Bourke's Garage and use them to slide down the hill at Flannelly's field.

Not alone lakes but also rivers froze. Patches of seawater in sheltered bays turned to ice.
Wildlife suffered badly as animals either froze or starved to death. Songbirds such as robins would come into houses searching for scraps of food.

Weather conditions in 1962/63 were similar to those which produced last week's cold spell.

Then, as last week, a high pressure system which normally sits over the subtropical Azores Islands, moved north over Ireland and Britain.

Anti-cyclonic condition in Ireland during wintertime in variable mean cold, frosty conditions with icy winds funnelling in from Scandinavia and eastern Europe.

So, despite so called global warming, this winter has proven that the treat of arctic winters hasn't gone away.

Indeed, some scientists are predicting that global warming could bring long, cold winters to western Europe.

The theory is that the melting arctic ice pack would drift into the Atlantic diverting the flow of the warming Gulf stream.

This would mean long, cold winters with a much shorter growing season in Ireland and Britain. This would have a huge social impact with people needing to move out from the cities to grow food.
Anyway, back to the hard winter of ‘62/'63 for a moment. Then, many rural folk lived in thatched houses with no central heating and only one turf fire to keep them warm.

But they got by, If a mini-ice Age, paradoxically as a result of global warming, does occur we'll survive. The Celts are a tough race genetically and well used to deprivations.

Courtesy of the Connacht Telegraph