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The Winter of 1962/63 on Exmoor by Kevin Roscoe

The east wind had been niggling like a dentists drill. In the late evening of Saturday, December 29th 1962, the wind blew a banshee note at the keyholes. Cue for the whirling dance in the skies, and then the snowbag was ripped from side to side. No ordinary snowfall was this but a blinder on a bending wind, an obliterator, which in sheer volume pulverised road communications.before any recovery could be achieved The deposit was repeated in less than a week and again at the end of January, and the daddy of all was bunged on the earth in the first week of February. This was the snow siege of Somerset. All counties wore the white and weighty shroud, but all except Somerset had free areas. The swift burial of moorland roads had sealed off the villages. On the Monday, H.S.Holman who kept the Exmoor Forest Hotel at Simonsbath, sent out an SOS for food for the people. Next day helicopters from RAF Chivenor, began the missions that were to keep them busy over the moorland for more than two months. Later the scene gathered a glaze of frost and ice as the Great Freeze gripped the land. With it came the fuel crisis. At North Hill, Minehead, 22 degrees of frost were registered, in the town centre the number was 14. Shops could not meet the demand for paraffin heaters. One shopkeeper, convinced there was a future, arranged his Easter egg display. Watchet had the sight of the century when the entire tide froze in the harbour; the effect was like giant sugar cubes. Porlock water mains ceased to work. The normally fast flowing Hawkumbe River, froze solid. No wonder, Porlock was now in 30 degrees of frost. It was Hell on Earth as not many people had central heating in the 1960’s; they would just about have done with a bag of nutty slack, as the joke would go. The fun was now leaving peoples faces, as they were without water, food, heating, insulin, midwives and baby food. Sometimes they were without air as well. The snow lay high above the windows on many a farmhouse, and then melted on the inside to flood the floor. Many people who remember these winters used salt in the plug holes, and put the plug in these dark nights, did not know what salt was, ’for it froze as well.’ People took to measuring the icicles hanging from the rooftops; there was credit in being up with the Joneses, even in this. The Met Office now stated that the snowfall was the heaviest since the 1881 killer. By mid January the bill was over £250,000.00, running at £13,000.00 per day, £29,000 of it in overtime alone.

They called it ‘snow burst’
Tuesday, February 5th, 38th day of siege. The helicopters blades in a merry-go-round, the ground machines bashing and biting, but the helicopter missions had been getting less, was the end of the Arctic weather in sight? The morning had held promise of a thaw but with the afternoon the east wind started to mock with a death roar, it came across the North Sea and laughed in the face of the workers who had nearly killed themselves in defence of the land, and as darkness shrouded the moors and the little farms the worst blow of all since Christmas was struck. A Force 9 gale drove snow horizontally across hills and towns alike. Exford asked for a verdict, gave it ""worst within memory". F.J.Thorn, of Wellfield between Porlock and Lynmouth called it "the most dreadful blizzard of all time, he added ‘the wind is blowing in the opposite direction to the others, it is putting snow where it has not drifted before’.

White to green
At last, on Saturday, March 2nd, the word was 'THAW'. The gurgling gutter was sweet music to the ears. On Sunday came the final expression of a return to normal, the sun melted the motorist’s prison and he darted on the road to get some use out of his tax disc. The bill for snow clearance "over £650,000.00"

Kevin Roscoe

Anglesey 2006

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