Roger Ratcliffe dreams
of a White Valentine’s Day 

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Ah well, there went another Christmas Day without a big tinselly blanketing of the white stuff, all deep and crisp and even, at least where most of us live. That’s despite the Daily Express characteristically declaring: “Britain is bracing itself for a White Christmas, with snow expected as freezing air hits from Canada.” The best anyone not living in upland areas got was a bit of sleet mixed in with the rain.

The Express’s forecast went as well as the newspaper’s 2009 promise of a “barbecue winter”, with turkey kebabs on many a yuletide menu, just before we endured the most prolonged spell of cold, snowy weather for decades.

We’ve come to expect this rubbish from tabloids. The Express was playing on the hopes of readers, because we have all been conditioned to feel cheated if we don’t get a White Christmas ever since Irving Berlin wrote the song of the same name for Bing Crosby’s character Jim Hardy to croon in the 1942 film Holiday Inn.

Berlin wrote the song in La Quinta, California, which, according to the internet, is famous for its “year-round warm climate”. The movie was made in Los Angeles, where it last snowed in 1962 and even then just a light dusting that melted in hours. So I think it’s kind of appropriate that we are now heading towards a similar climate as that in southern California, where we too can only dream of you-know-what. The downside, of course, is that like the Californians we are also getting more wildfires.

According to Paul Hudson, highly respected weather presenter on the BBC’s Yorkshire news programme Look North, global warming now makes snowfalls an increasingly rare event. In his excellent book That’s the Forecast! he writes: “Looking back through the archives it is obvious – without having to study any weather data – that our climate was very much colder in the past. Many of Yorkshire’s rivers used to regularly freeze over, and villagers across the Dales would as a matter of routine stock up the larder in autumn in anticipation of being cut off at least for a time from the outside world.”

A few weeks ago the UK’s Met Office said climate change would end snowy days at low levels by the year 2040, with only the highest mountains of Scotland getting snow. That’s bad news for generations of kids who will grow up with parents and grandparents telling them stories of snowmen, snowball fights, and sledging.

More likely, the childhood memories that will be passed on by future generations will be of a milder and wetter climate. There will be stories of getting soaked to the skin in sudden rainstorms, of not being able to play outside because of torrential downpours, and if they are among the many thousands who live in flood-risk towns and villages, their memories will be not of building a snowman but of building a wall of sandbags across the front door.

Still, don’t give up on snow just yet. Weather records indicate that we have always been more likely to get the white-mantled countryside and hoar frosts of Christmas cards many weeks later. Meteorologists have a name for this weather event – the Buchan Cold Spell – and it runs on 7-14 February.

No one dreams of a White Valentine’s Day, however.

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