How many words do they say the Inuit have for ‘snow’? Four hundred? 1 English seems to have far fewer: snow, disruption, carnage. For while safety concerns rightfully grounded aircraft (and even closed archives) last week, the disruption seemed significant. I wondered what kind of considerations lead to such decisions being made. Surely airlines wouldn’t cancel flights and train operators wouldn’t decide to run reduced services – and suffer decreased revenue as a consequence – without sound reasons? Surely every possible technological consideration would be made to keep services running?
The winter of 1962-63 (the so-called ‘Big Freeze’) was bitter, long, and exceptionally cold. Snow covered almost the entire country and there was snowfall each month between November and April. Disruption was significant, as schools struggled to open, roads were blocked, and sporting events cancelled (one football match was cancelled 33 times, and Barnsley, Yorkshire played only twice between late December and mid-March). 2
Through files held here at The National Archives we can see how closely government monitored technical operations at that time, and stipulated what constituted safe travel. A circular from the Ministry of Aviation sent in September 1962 (found in Board of Trade records – BT 248/355) demonstrates this, as government scientists specified the acceptable levels of slush/water for take-off, as research showed they negatively affect performance and damage aircraft.
- 1. As with all delightfully simplistic and faintly derogatory claims, this is indeed a myth: www.uaf.edu/anlc/snow/. ^
- 2. www.guardian.co.uk/football/2010/jan/10/fa-cup-1963-freeze-abandonments. ^