Snow comes to East Anglia – it’s a big deal, but it wasn’t always quite like this
- Credit: Archant
Us Brits love talking and reading about the weather. When there’s a lot of snow, or when storms bring high winds, everyone in an area tends to be affected.
So I make no apology for the fact that the arrival of the “Beast from the East” has attracted a raft of headlines in our newspapers and websites over the last few days.
Talk to anyone in the street and it’s one of the first things they’ll comment on. Weather is big news when it hits.
Part of the fascination of the subject is its unpredictability. You don’t know what you’re going to get before it arrives and a tiny variation from what is forecast can make all the difference.
We weren’t helped this week by the fact there were two very different weather forecasts being put out by different organisations and it was very difficult to work out which was more likely to happen.
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In the end we finished up with something in the middle – and the real snowfall arrived about 24 hours after most people were expecting it.
We’re still being warned we could have a load more snow landing on us over Thursday night/Friday morning that could really stir things up again.
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What is clear is that everyone took the arrival of this week’s snow very seriously – it was accompanied by very cold weather and showed signs of hanging around for a long time once it had fallen.
No-one took the impending snowstorm more seriously than rail companies Greater Anglia and Network Rail.
Two days before the storm was due to hit they took the decision to cut back services for two days and put all their efforts into keeping main lines running a reduced service.
In the event, the storm on Monday night into Tuesday was not as severe as they first thought, and after coming under considerable fire from passengers in Essex and nearer London who had seen very little snow they announced services would be normal on Wednesday.
Many of us felt that what happened yesterday was almost inevitable – but I do feel they were in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario.
Many weather experts were giving out almost apocalyptic weather forecasts at the weekend. Wasn’t it best to warn passengers in advance that their journeys would be difficult, if not impossible, later in the week?
On the other hand, wouldn’t it have been better to make the decision nearer the time? Would it have been good to say: “We may not be able to run all our normal trains if the weather is as predicted” but leave the option open that they could run normally if, as happened, the snow wasn’t quite as bad as feared?
Maybe. But it’s a fine decision to make, and whatever they did you can be sure someone would have been upset. Can you imagine the outcry if a train from Saxmundham to Woodbridge full of youngsters heading to school conked out miles from the nearest station?
Trains are, actually, more resilient than they were in years gone by – the film of two Stanier Black Fives, tender-to-tender, clearing snow on the Settle to Carlisle line in 1947 might be an iconic image of British grit, but you were much more likely to get stuck by a failed steam train in the 1950s than you are to suffer a breakdown today.
Oliver Cromwell proved that last week – but I couldn’t resist using Shaun Watson’s superb video of it returning through Colchester on Wednesday in the snow in this column!
But I’m not sure WE’RE more resilient than our grandparents. If we get stuck in a cold, dark train we don’t shrug our shoulders and say “C’est la vie.” We reach for our smartphone and start attacking the train company on Twitter or Facebook.
And the fact is we are far less used to hard winters than our parents and grandparents. I was born months before the start of the 1960s and I don’t remember a winter without at least a week or two of snow in Suffolk while I was growing up. The toboggan got a couple of weeks’ use every year. I’m not sure there would have been enough snow to use it in Christchurch Park, Ipswich, at the start of the week.
If we are now softer than we were in the past it is because we don’t need to know how to cope in the snow. We can sit in our centrally-heated homes, wait for the flakes to stop and then put on a few layers to make a snowman with the kids to take pictures of and remember as a seminal part of their childhood.
When I was growing up there was nothing special about a snowman. You built two or three every year!
I know I’m sounding a bit like Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen” – but we do have to recognise that things have changed. Snow is no longer normal. Any more than a few flakes is newsworthy. Transport providers do have to worry when it hits – and we will see it as a big deal.