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Blizzard Strikes Portions of Western Europe

By: Christopher C. Burt , 8:17 PM GMT on March 13, 2013

Blizzard Strikes Portions of Western Europe

A blizzard dropped up to 60 cm (24”) of snow in northern France and the Channel Islands of England on Monday and Tuesday this week. It was said to have been the deepest snow since 1987 in the Channel Islands and since 1970 in Normandy and Picardy in France. Extreme cold followed the snow with the lowest mid-March temperatures since 1845 reported in Belgium.

Blizzard conditions enveloped Caen, France in Calvados Department near the English Channel on March 12th. Photographer not identified.

The storm affected not only France and England but Belgium, Holland, and Germany as well. Frankfurt Airport, Europe’s 3rd busiest aviation hub, was forced to close at one point on Tuesday (March 12th) when 12 cm (5”) of snow accumulated. At the Paris Orly Airport a Tunisair jet skidded off the runway causing delays and cancellations for hundreds of flights there. The Eurostar high-speed train between London, Paris and Brussels was also forced to suspend operations. In Normandy and Brittany (northern France) 2000 motorists were stranded in their cars overnight and 80,000 homes in the area lost power. Unusually cold air followed the snowfall with temperatures falling to -12°C (10.4°F) at Saughall, Aryshire in the U.K. and -13°C (8.6°F) at Eli, Netherlands. Brussels, Belgium measured its coldest temperature so late in the season since 1845 with a -12°C (9°F) reading on March 13th.

The actual maximum snowfall amounts are, as usual for Europe, difficult to ascertain aside from anecdotal reports. It would appear that the heaviest snowfall was confined to the Channel Islands such as Jersey and Guernsey (which are actually just off the coast of France) where it appears about 50-60 cm (20-24”) of snow fell with 40-50 mph winds blowing the snow into drifts 1-2 meters (3-6 feet) deep.

The scene on Guernsey Island, a British isle off the coast of Normandy, France. At least 50 cm (20”) of snow fell here. Photo from wunderground.com by “rocqman”.

Similar snow totals seem to have impacted the Manche and Calvados districts of Normandy in northwest France. Paris seems to have picked up only about 5-7 cm (2-3”) which apparently was enough to paralyze traffic there. Reports from the Netherlands indicate up to 10 cm (4”) fell in the southern portion of the country. In Britain the hardest hit area on the mainland was in Kent (extreme southeastern England) where snowfall of about 10-25 cm (4-10”) was driven by high winds into drifts of a meter or more. Kent’s greatest March snowstorm on record was when 50-70 cm (20-28”) buried the area over a ten-day period March 1-10 in 1909.

In southeastern England 10 cm of snow was blown into drifts up to 1-2 meters (3-6 feet) stranding vehicles on country roads. Photo by Bob Moran, for BBC.

The snowstorm was the result of an Atlantic low pressure system colliding with unusually cold air flowing into the region from the northeast as a result of a blocking high-latitude ridge stretching from New England to Siberia.

The 850 mb analysis for 0000Z on March 12th illustrates the arm of cold air flowing over southern England and northern France that allowed the heavy snowfall to occur.

The unusually cold air that allowed the snowstorm to happen was facilitated by a ridge at the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere that squeezed the cold air to the south and west over England and France.

The storm is expected to redevelop over the Mediterranean Sea by Thursday and track northeast bringing heavy snow to central and eastern Europe this weekend.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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3. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
7:15 PM GMT on March 15, 2013
weatherhistorian has created a new entry.
2. FormerAussie
10:06 AM GMT on March 14, 2013
Snowfall of any kind in the Channel Islands is rare, so this must have been a shock for them. The farmers there - because of the normally mild climate - often specialise in early varieties of fruit, vegetables and flowers, so not good news. I grew up in the SW of England where snow was almost as rare but could arrvive in large quantities because of this sort of weather pattern - because there was always a strong wind, the even depth was always hard to establish.
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1. airman45
8:06 AM GMT on March 14, 2013
Hi Chris,

Great synopsis. I live in southern Germany (Stuttgart) and all of this just missed us, literally by just a few miles. We had just a dusting of snow yesterday, and rain the day before, while everyone else was getting a blizzard. We seemed to be in a bubble of much warmer air.

Today is cold (-6C, 21F) but clear. Usually just the opposite happens. We get the snow and the northern areas not so much.
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About weatherhistorian

Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.

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