A nephew is doing a school project on climate change so he is asking family members for their memories of winters through the decades from 1960 onwards. Doing that for him, even briefly, has really underscored the changes I have seen through my lifetime so far.
I was born in 1965 and until I was 7, I lived in Lincolnshire. I remember snow every winter, but only after Christmas, falling in January and February. I remember walking to school in a woolly hat and gloves, and snowball fights in the playground. The heaters in the classroom would be covered with knitted gloves drying out with a faint smell like a wet dog.
When we moved to Dorset, and lived right by the sea on the South Coast, snow was very unusual. Winters were still cold though, with frosty mornings, and fog, and crisp brown leaves crunching underfoot. As a 6th Former, I would describe the changes in the seasons in my letters to my mother who was then living in West Africa, in Cote D’Ivoire.
I came to Oxford to study in 1983 and have lived in this county ever since, which is about as far away from the sea as it’s possible to get in the UK. Through the 80s, we would get a severe winter with heavy snow every third or fourth year, when the weather would be cold enough to freeze the small rivers, like the Cherwell which flows past St Hilda’s College where I was an undergraduate. I remember seeing ducks trying to land, not realising they were about to hit ice and skidding along on their bottoms. The weather would stay cold enough for the snow not to melt for several weeks, maybe even a month or more. Then the thaw would mean flooding in the bottom of the river valleys, which is why those fields are called water meadows.
Through the 90s, cold and snowy winters didn’t happen as often here, maybe every fourth or fifth year or less. I only remember a couple of occasions when my sons’ primary school was closed because of snow, and I think that only happened twice while they were at secondary school. The weather would warm up enough to melt the snow within a week. Winters were still chilly, but the really cold weather didn’t last as long. From 2010 onwards, a heavy snow fall has been unusual. I can only recall that happening a couple of times, and the snow melted within a few days.
There are still floods between January to March most years, following heavy rain that usually comes at the end of the winter. Sometimes these are bad enough to flood the new houses that have been built on the water meadows – as everyone with local knowledge confidently predicted. Flooding at all times of year is now a serious local concern.
Since 2020? I was sorting through my sweaters last spring and I realised I hadn’t worn my really thick, woolly jumpers at all for several years. It simply hasn’t been cold enough for me to need them, even though I don’t have the heating on when I’m working at home on my own. My friends and I tell each other about flowers and trees in our gardens getting confused and blooming at the wrong time of year. I have seen photos on daffodils at Christmas a few times on Facebook. This year seems warmer than ever. It’s mid-November and I am sitting here in a t-shirt without the heating on.