I apologise that so many of my posts are weather related at the moment and hope that you’ll excuse me as a) I’m British so talking about the weather is what we do and b) I have missed weather whilst living in Asia. It’s nice to be hot and sunny all the time but it does get a little, well, boring, if I’m honest with you. And I’m saying that as a bona fide sun worshipper. Also, as a Brit, it is very difficult to find alternative topics of conversation when you can’t talk about the weather.
I am still excited about the snow here which surprises me. As a small child I hated it apparently and wouldn’t set foot on it (I was the same with sand – clearly I was not a fun child), then I grew to appreciate that snow usually meant days off school so was persuaded to love it and could even be convinced to head to Allesley park with a large silver baking tray for some impromptu sledging down the hills (always more fun on a round tray as you spin whilst heading downhill!!) Sure it was great fun running around in the snow but I hated walking back when the cold had sunk through to my bones, my fingers were blue and the cold burned my cheeks. I couldn’t wait to get home and warm up.
The snow bit was great fun but I always hated the thaw, which in the UK often begins approximately an hour after the initial snowfall and takes days to clear. This is when the top layer of snow becomes brown and slushy, infiltrating shoes that are not designed for snow and resulting in frostbitten feet for the rest of the day, but the bottom layer remains a slick layer of ice masquerading as water and just waiting for you to land flat on your face in a puddle of brown slush. Annoyingly these conditions far outweigh the fun white powdery stuff that you get at first and it is for this reason that I hated snow. As a teacher snow days are great but there’s no way I intend to get out and walk around in the stuff.
It was with some anxiety that I watched the first snow fall here in Sweden. It was mid October and I knew that once the snows came there would be no reprieve, I’ll be continuing my 4 hour daily commute to school, however bad it gets. At first it was a great novelty, the snow is thick and powdery – too powdery to make a snowball or a snowman – and it crunches satisfyingly underfoot. I waited for the thaw to begin. It didn’t. Sure, the snow by the side of the road turns brown but it remains powderlike, not slushy and wet. Even when walking in a blizzard with the snow coated to your clothing, it doesn’t melt and freeze you through to the skin. You just dust it off and you’re not even wet! Shoes here are made for this weather – few people wear lace-up shoes in the winter, and virtually no trainers, pretty much all boots have flat soles, thick treads and are fur-lined. The girls have made these the winter fashion rather than conforming to fashion that doesn’t suit the weather.
Before living here the concept of going skiing was completely lost on me. Why would anybody want to pay a lot of money to be cold, wet and miserable the whole time? I still don’t want to go skiing but I now understand that it is not as unpleasant as I had imagined. I am still enjoying the snow here even though it has been on the ground for well over 8 weeks. I have not even slipped yet – of course there is still time and I’m sure that it will happen but I never thought I’d make 8 weeks without falling over in it!
As the UK currently experiences some of the most severe weather conditions in recent history it is facing the usual criticism about its inability to deal with the amount of snow that has fallen in the last few days. Motorways are gridlocked, planes are grounded and shops face the usual shortage situation as deliveries are delayed and frenzied shoppers panic buy. The rest of Europe watches somewhat amused as the British run around in circles saying ‘Golly, what is this unprecedented disaster?!’
I concede that it is true to say that these weather conditions are not usual for the UK and therefore it is unfair to expect the country to be prepared for it in the same way that other countries are prepared for it. Scandinavia experiences heavy snowfall consistently for 5-6 months every winter and, as already explained, the snow is different. Even here in Sweden traffic problems occur when the temperatures warm up enough to produce the wet snow that the UK generally gets. This snow doesn’t brush off, it melts and infiltrates the electrical systems on trains and cars causing breakdowns and failures. The UK also has extensive rail and road networks criss-crossing a small country and, let’s face it, there are a hell of a lot more people living in the UK than probably all of Scandinavia combined. Perhaps, it’s not fair to criticise so harshly.
What does annoy me though, and this is only my humble opinion, is the seeming lack of desire to try and make it any better. Yes, it is true that the UK does not experience this kind of weather every year but this is now the THIRD year running when it HAS happened. I also very clearly remember similar situations for a number of winters in my own lifetime and I am only 31. It may not be common weather but it is not uncommon either. We are a small island with an unpredictable climate and therefore we need to be prepared for the unpredictable as much as other countries are prepared for the predictable. Until they can say with 100% certainty that the UK will never experience weather like this again, we should be ready for the chance that it will, surely?
Weather buffs tell us that if Global Warming continues there is a strong chance that the UK will lose the Gulf Stream – the only thing that prevents us from having the severe winter climate that other countries of our latitude experience. If the earth is ever to enter another ice age, or even just another period of cooling, then the UK will not escape. This is all perhaps a little overdramatic but it seems that Global Warming will bring cooler and more unsettled weather so why aren’t we doing more to prepare for it? The answer will always boil down to cost and I don’t know enough about it to offer an opinion. But surely small steps will help: Heathrow is a MAJOR world airport, is it SO impossible to invest a bit more to keep it open during snowy weather? To be fair to the airports, they seem to be reopening as quickly as they can and so it seems that the UK is better at damage limitation than it is at being prepared so maybe there is hope yet! But c’mon UK, we haven’t seen the last of snow yet.
So I sit here in eager anticipation of the news that my flight to Stansted will be operating this afternoon and I extend my hope and wishes that all of my friends stranded in Doha will get a flight home soon, that Ollie and Andrew will find their way back from the random airports they have been inconveniently dropped at, that Pete will be rescheduled onto another flight soon, that Anne-Marie’s friend will visit Vietnam another time, that Bee’s bridesmaids dress will make it to her in time for the wedding and that everybody gets where they want to be for Christmas!