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Has it been an unusually cold start to March?

March heralds the start of Meteorological Spring, and with daffodils, snowdrops and crocuses making an appearance many of us start to think of warmer sunshine and longer days. March 2023 has got off to a cold start, and with numerous snow and ice warnings across the UK it is a fair question to ask if this is an unusual start to Spring in the UK.

The short answer to this question is: no. The ‘transition’ seasons in the UK, Spring and Autumn, can often be highly variable, with changes in the conditions across the country as we move from winter towards summer and vice-versa. Indeed, statistically it is marginally more likely to snow in March than it is in December in the UK.

Comparisons of temperature

You don’t have to look back too far in the observational record to find a similar start to March, as Dr Mark McCarthy from the Met Office National Climate Information Centre explains: “If we look back at the start of March in 2021, the maximum temperatures for the UK were very similar to the values we’ve seen at the start of March 2023. The graphs below show in blue how temperatures have been below average and are very similar. Through mid-to-late March 2021 temperatures then became milder than average, as shown in orange.”


Going back further, March 2018 and 2013 were also both notably cold months, as shown in the graphs below. In terms of mean monthly temperatures for the UK, 2013 was considerably colder than 2018, and March 2013 was the coldest March for UK mean temperature since 1962 (ranking 5th coldest in the series back to 1884).   


Snow comparisons

For significant March snowfall many people will remember the March of 2018 with widespread freezing conditions that also delivered a lot of snow across much of the UK.

Dr McCarthy adds:

“For the first three days of March 2018 there were more than 100 weather observation stations recording at least 2cm of lying snow. Just over 50 of these stations had 10cm or more for those first three days. In some locations this snow persisted until 18 March when there was another widespread snow event.

“March 2013 was another snowy month, however this time the snow events were more clustered towards the end of the month.”

It is too early to assess how the snow record for March 2023 will sit alongside March records in previous years. However, with plenty of impactful snow in the forecast, it will certainly be a memorable cold spell for many. Keep up to date with the Met Office forecast and severe weather warnings.


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