Winter 2008-9 part 3 - Many February snowfalls!


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Following the gales of the second half of January, the advent of February saw a transition to a biting, raw Easterly wind as an intense area of high pressure over NW Russia and Scandinavia - a "Scandi High" in weatherspeak - took control of things. Scandi Highs in the depths of Winter are almost the Holy Grail to any avid fan of cold weather and this once certainly delivered the goods, ushering in an upper cold pool that came out of the frozen lands of North Russia (i.e. what the tabloids call a "Siberian Blast") and tracked across the North Sea before setting over the UK for a number of days. Fronts and troughs in this airflow forced the moisture picked up from the North Sea to fall - mostly - as snow over a wide area on Monday 2nd February, and the strong East wind allowed the snow to drift widely over high ground.

Now, we are used, here on the western upslopes of the Cambrian Mountains, to intense rain in a mild sou-westerly, whilst towns to the east of the Cambrian Mountains, like Newtown, will get much less rain out of such an event. It's known as the "rain-shadow" effect: the air is lifted up over the mountains, where it is forced to drop most of its moisture, so that by the time it has got past the mountains, there's a lot less moisture left to precipitate.

In an Easterly, exactly the reverse is the case: snow is heavy up on the mountains but western coastal fringes see hardly any. Such was the case on the 2nd, with barely a covering in Machynlleth, so on the 3rd I set out with camera to investigate what had fallen where...

Tal-y-llyn from the A487

Heading north through Corris the snow cover increased to a few centimetres. Past Corris, this was the view down to a part-frozen Tal-y-llyn - not much snow there! I headed on NE up the "Cadair Pass".....

The "Cadair Pass" and Tal-y-llyn's the view back down the pass to the lake. I continued down to Cross Foxes, then east up the A470 towards the Bwlch ....

Snowdrifts on the A470, up in the mountains, there was a lot more snow that had drifted everywhere....

Snowdrifts on the A470

I liked these crazy snow-sculptures, but better was to come....

Snowdrifts on the Machynlleth-Llanidloes Mountain Road

...with a chance of getting a nice sunset I headed back to Machynlleth and off up the Mountain Road to Llanidloes. At just under the 300m contour I started to run into drifts....

Snowdrifts on the Machynlleth-Llanidloes Mountain Road

...including this bit of natural perfection, where snow had blown through a gap in the hedge. This was just under a metre across.

Sunset was not so impressive....

The Moon

...but I had a crack at the Moon instead!


The cold pool remained over the southern UK in the days to come, with an area of low pressure in the English Channel (a "Channel Low" - Holy Grail #2 of snow-lovers) throwing bands of snow and wintry showers across the country. On the 5th, I ventured to the same point on the Mountain Road to get a few "action shots"....


...sheep make useful models in such conditions! I wonder what mixed grass and snow taste like??

Sheep-tracks in snow

The 6th dawned bright and fine and I thought I might get right up and over the Mountain Road, although a lot of new snow had obviously fallen. Random wanderings of the sheep made interesting patterns in the bright light.

Dylife Road above Bacheiddon

Unfortunately it became clear that I was not going to get very far!! Someone's been wheel-spinning all over the place here - look at the wheel-marks! I suspected ice underlying snow....

On the 9th, another Channel Low swept through, but it brought only light snowfall to Mid-Wales, affecting areas further south to a much greater extent. On the 10th, I had to go to Llanidloes. On the way there, I missed the shortcut over the Mountain Road in case I was going to have to turn back, going instead via Llanbrynmair, Cwm Pennant and past Clywedog reservoir. Dylife is only a mile off this route, and the top of the Mountain Road only a mile beyond that, so I thought I would go for a look on the way back. As the road climbed up to the top, it became obviously impassable so I parked up and set off on foot....

Dylife Road summit area

This section of the road, as it drops down from the top towards Dylife, is typically the best, or worst, depending on your viewpoint, for drifting, as it runs down a bit of a hollow - the ideal place for snow to build up. Here, it is a metre thick.....

Dylife Road summit area

....and the hard, refrozen snow between the tractor-ruts would have grounded my small 4x4 quickly. I assumed a farmer had gone up to check on sheep, but nearing the top I could hear an engine....

Clearing the snow - Dylife Road summit area

...and this came into view!

Clearing the snow - Dylife Road summit area

When you get this amount of drifted snow, it's time to break out the serious kit!

Cleared snow - Dylife Road summit area

Good job done, too. Keeping these roads open can be a losing battle sometimes - at ~500m above sea-level, scenes like this are not that unusual. Dark clouds were gathering to the north so I turned and headed back to the jeep as the visibility deteriorated....


...and in it came again! I think I saw falling snow pretty much every day from February 2-10....

Lesser Celandine

...a cold winter certainly, if you add in the cold late October onset, the bitter frosts of January and this snowy spell. In 2008 I spotted the first Lesser Celandine of the year on January 19th. This year it was February 6th before I saw one, in the same place, a south-facing hedgerow at the entrance to Cwm Maethlon, between Tywyn and Aberdyfi. Brave little thing!


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