Paul Hudson: Why our obsession with winter goes beyond the bookmakers and headline writers

Snow in March 1979: The pitch at Wakefield Trinity rugby league club is cleared of snow.
Snow in March 1979: The pitch at Wakefield Trinity rugby league club is cleared of snow.

It seems that not a week has gone by this winter without warnings of the next Big Freeze, and just last month, odds were slashed on a white Christmas.

But a fascination with the winter isn’t just down to bookmakers and headline writers, according to BBC Look North weatherman Paul Hudson “everyone is obsessed with the snow”.

Paul Hudson

Paul Hudson

Paul Hudson has been a familiar face on BBC Look North for 18 years.

Whether you’re looking forward to the chocolate box image of snow-topped roofs and snowball fights, or you’re dreading the commute in the slush, it seems the possible onslaught of wild weather is the question everyone wants answering.

But even with 18 years on our screens, and having trained at the Met Office College after completing a geophysics degree, Paul says it’s impossible to know for sure if we’ll be making snowmen this winter.

“Predicting snow is the Holy Grail of weather forecasters,” he said. “A winter forecast is very difficult, there are so many different variables to take into account. It’s just impossible to know.

January 1985,  Ossett.

January 1985, Ossett.

“There was no way of predicting the winter of 2010.”

That winter is still fresh in many people’s minds, for all the wrong reasons.

Snow began falling in November but the worst came at the start of December, with 30cm of snow recorded in the Peak District in Sheffield, and 40cm in Rotherham on December 1. The M1 closed, and in the week that followed thousands of motorists across Sheffield became stranded as up to as much as 2 feet of snow fell on the city.

The Met Office recorded temperatures of -19c in Topcliffe, North Yorkshire, overnight on December 2 - the coldest night in over 100 years.

Throughout the winter, blizzards brought some of the worst driving conditions in years in Yorkshire, and the coldest Christmas Day since 1820, with an average temperature of -5.9C.

Paul remembers it well. His love of wild winter weather is so strong that in 2006, along with fellow forecaster Ian McCaskill, published Frozen in Time: The Years When Britain Shivered, a tribute to our worst winters.

“Of course, that was published in 2006 before the horrendous winter in 2010 that took everybody by surprise,” Paul said. “It was the coldest since ‘78-79 and deepest December snow since 1981.

“At the time, with all the talk of global warming, and coming off the back of the ‘90s, which were particularly remarkable for the lack of snow and frost, it came as a bolt out of the blue. It was right up there with the severest in the last century

Winter, he says, is without a doubt his favourite time of year.

“Although as I get older I’m starting to enjoy it less,” he said. “But winter is definitely my favourite, especially for the kids.”

When writing the book, Paul and Ian trawled through newspaper archives to find out the personal stories behind the staggering snow statistics. In the winter of 1963, barrels of beer at the Tan Hill Inn, Britain’s highest pub in Swaledale, froze. While 1963 was noted as the coldest winter since 1740, 1947 was the snowiest.

Paul said: “When you speak to older people, they remember ‘47 as worst. Parts of the Yorkshire Dales were entirely cut-off. But it was post-war, rationing was still in effect and it must have felt worse than in ‘63.”

“The science fascinates me more than anything. It just goes to show there are no reliable long-range forecasts. We see the headlines saying it will be the worst winter since the woolly mammoth but we just don’t know. There are no reliable indicators.”

Despite this, we could not go without asking Paul about this winter.

Bookmaker Paddy Power last month dropped the odds of a white Christmas in Leeds to just 3/1, and 4/1 in Doncaster. The last White Christmas in the UK was during that “horrendous” winter of 2010, with snow being recorded on the ground at 83 per cent of UK weather stations, and snow falling at 19 per cent of stations on the day.

But after the deluge of flooding that came with Storm Desmond earlier this month, Paul said it’s still rain - not snow - that is going to cause a headache this winter.

Paul said: “I suspect it may well be flooding that could be a problem this winter, especially in the coming weeks as mild Westerleys bring heavy rain.

“It looks like it’s going to be a pretty normal winter from a snow point of view, with one or two short incidents of snow on the hills but on the whole, it’s looking to be quite wet and mild.

“In 2010 the winter started extraordinarily early, with snow at the end of November, all through December and into January.

“Despite what many people think, December isn’t normally known for snow, but for being mild and wet.”