Snow history in the Axe Valley - 1947 to the present day

Historian recalls major white-outs.

During December 2010, Devon experienced one of the coldest winters on record and, on the Monday before Christmas, suffered the heaviest snowfall since February 1978.

People in East Devon woke to find that, with six inches of snow, gardens had disappeared and every bush looked like a frozen fountain, roads and pavements had become a white, unruffled surface and every roof, tree, road and garden had been changed overnight by an unseen hand of miraculous cunning.

People of my generation will recall the winter of 1947 when, during one of the worst winters in living memory, Devon suffered an almost unprecedented white-out. The roads were treacherous and no driver would venture out in his car without snow chains. In some areas, including Dartmoor, people were battling through 20 foot snow drifts and the RAF was making food drops to stranded villages.

Heavy snow fell again during the closing days of 1962 and arctic blasts swept East Devon with snow on most days during January 1963.

Once again, snow drifts of over eight feet blocked most roads.

East Devon was almost cut off from the outside world when a blizzard hit the area over a weekend in mid-February 1978.

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Outlying farms and cottages were isolated for almost a week and the snow drifted so high it was possible to walk over the tops of hedges. A strange, uncanny silence filled the town of Seaton, Sidmouth and Colyton due to the complete absence of traffic. The residents lived for a few days in a snow-muffled world and the main road from Seaton to Sidmouth was blocked for five days.

Trunk roads into Devon and Cornwall were blocked and, as usual, all the roads over Dartmoor were closed. The M5 was closed from Exeter to Bristol and East Devon was sealed off from the rest of the country with no way in or out east of Honiton.

But, here in East Devon, we have to go back to 1927 if we want to dream of a White Christmas.

Heavy snow started falling that year on Christmas Day and, by Boxing Day, Devon was transformed into a white, winter wonderland.

Ten foot drifts covered much of East Devon and Dartmoor experienced drifts of over 16 feet and convicts from Princetown Prison were employed to dig out warders from their snowbound homes so they could report for duty.

Even though the winters of 2008 and 2009 were very cold, the Met Office put the odds on a third harsh winter no higher than 20-1 and, way back in 2000, a climate change activist said that winter snowfalls would be a thing of the past – “children just aren’t going to know what snow is” he predicted confidently!

Tell that to my eight-year-old grand-daughter, Tallulah.