Britain's coldest December in 120 years leaves mark on region

BRITAIN has experienced its coldest December in 120 years as temperatures dropped to their lowest levels since the 1800s, according to weather forecasters.

It was also the chilliest individual calendar month since February 1986, with temperatures of -21.1C recorded in the Scottish Highlands.

A series of heavy snowfalls across the UK caused massive disruption to road, rail and air travel as the nation struggled to cope with the freezing conditions.

Now it has emerged that the big freeze has resulted in the coldest December in more than a century.

The benchmark Central England Temperature plunged to an average of -0.6C over the month, the lowest figure for December since 1890, according to MeteoGroup UK weather forecasters.

There were 10 nights in December when the temperature fell below -18C somewhere in the UK. Altnaharra in Sutherland, Scotland, experienced the coldest conditions, with the mercury plummeting to -21.1C early on the first day of December. By contrast, St Mary's, in the Isles of Scilly, basked in the relative warmth of a high of 11.5C four days ago. Over the month, the lowest average maximum temperature of -0.4C was recorded in Dalwhinnie and Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands, while the warmest average was 7.6C in St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly. The average minimum temperature ranged from -8.4C in Tyndrum in Stirlingshire, Scotland, to 4.9C in St Mary's.

However despite the heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures bookies escaped a huge payout last month to punters who were predicting a white Christmas. Record bets totalling 600,000 were made but the Met Office, which uses the fall of single snow flake as a definition, only recorded a white Christmas in a handful of locations including Aberdeen, Glasgow, Albemarle in the north-east, Church Fenton near Tadcaster and Waddington in Suffolk.

It did prove to be a freezing Christmas Day, with temperatures as low as -18.2C in Altnaharra in Scotland overnight, and Castlederg in Northern Ireland at a record low of -17.1C at 9am on Christmas Day.

The Arctic conditions actually began before December with parts of Yorkshire among the worst affected areas of the country. In late November, Topcliffe, in North Yorkshire, was said to be the coldest place in England as the temperature plunged to -13.5C. However it was not the coldest November temperature on record for Yorkshire, which was -15C in 1993, near Ripon.

The start of December saw the heaviest snowfall to hit parts of the region in more than a century.

The conditions caused widespread chaos as towns and cities around Yorkshire grid-locked, flights and train services were cancelled and schools were forced to send children home.

Both the Snake Pass and the Woodhead Trans-Pennine routes have been closed off for spells during December and some motorists were even forced to spend the night at Woodall services on the M1 after becoming stranded on the motorway, at the start of the month .

Much of Britain may have been freezing and snowbound during December, but records also show that it was a drier and sunnier end to the year than usual. There was less rain and more sunshine in the past month than the average December.