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The ‘Beast from the East’ delivered a historic blitz of cold and snow to Britain and Ireland

Fun in the snow in Glasgow, Scotland’s Queens Park on March 1. (Robert Perry/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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The end of February and early March featured insane weather across Britain, with huge amounts of snowfall, gale-force winds and record cold temperatures. Also in the mix was freezing rain, thunder snow and at least one waterspout.

Some villages across the British Isles were cut off by 25-foot drifts, days after the snow ended. The army was enlisted to dig people out and get medical personnel to hospitals.

Starting Feb. 26, a strong high-pressure system described as “the Beast from the East” slid in from Siberia, dispersing dry, frigid air. But as the cold dry air sped across the relatively warm North Sea, it picked up copious amounts of ocean moisture, and an intense sea-effect snow event commenced. Snowfall rates were up to three inches an hour in the most intense bands. When all was said and done, 20 inches of snow had fallen in spots.

Major travel disruptions were reported in Scotland, with roads impassable, airports closed, trains stuck in stations and thousands of schools and business closed for days.

As the sea effect was subsiding in Scotland and northeast England, a strong low-pressure system named Emma slammed into the cold air from the south off the Atlantic Ocean, unleashing a barrage of snow on southwest England and Ireland on Thursday and Friday. Snowfall totals were close to two feet in what is usually the balmiest part of the countries. The hills around Cardiff and the eastern coast of Ireland were hit the hardest.

Weather blogger Mark Vogan lives in Milton of Campsie, a village 12 miles north of Glasgow. He told the Capital Weather Gang on Monday that he was cut off for three days without bread and milk. The snow depth around his house reached about a foot, with drifts up to 10 feet.

Here are highlights from this remarkable cold, snowy snap:

  • Edinburgh reported 8.27 inches of snow, the most in March since 1979.
  • Glasgow Airport reported 14.5 inches of snow.
  • Drumalbin reported nearly 20 inches, one of the highest recorded totals in Scotland and a record for March.
  • Britain set a record for its coldest March high temperature of 23.5 F (minus-4.7 Celsius) in Tredegar, Wales.
  • Glasgow recorded its coldest March day with a high of 32 degrees (O Celsius).
  • Lerwick on Shetland reported its coldest March day since 1937 with a high of 28 degrees (minus-2.3 Celsius).

Weather blogger xmetman wrote that for Central England, “the first of March provisionally has the lowest mean temperature for that day since 1785, and additionally was the coldest day (lowest maximum of -0.8°C) for any March day since 1878.”

The Irish meteorological service, Met Eireann, rounded up these snow totals, which included about a foot (30 cm) in Dublin:

As brutal as it was in Britain and Ireland, it was even colder last week in Central and Eastern Europe, with temperatures averaging 18 degrees below normal. Temperatures in Warsaw remained below freezing for 11 days.

Jason Samenow contributed to this post.