Skip to main content
A thermometer surrounded by snow showing freezing temperature and a photo of Tower Bridge, London

The coldest temperatures in UK history


A popular misconception about global warming is that it is just making the world hotter. However, it leads to all kinds of freakish weather conditions, which also include things getting much, much colder.

It’s widely accepted that, as the North and South Poles are increasing in temperature, excess heat causes the polar vortex phenomenon (the vast area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of Earth's poles) to essentially split and spin off, disrupting weather across the world.

There can be other reasons at play though it seems the majority of our coldest UK winters have occurred in the past one hundred years.

*All the following temperatures are in Celsius


Despite temperatures being reported as low as -30, the lowest recorded in the UK, it would appear from literary and pictorial archives of the time that, instead of moaning about it, everyone had a huge party on the frozen River Thames! Dig a little deeper and it is a lot less fun. Many impoverished families starved to death in the intense cold, and there were riots to protest the lack of aid.

Nearly fifty years later almost the very same thing happened a second time, but in this instance, The Great Winter (as it became known) affected the whole of Europe. No one is entirely sure why it became so extremely cold, though there are a few theories surrounding volcanic activity, and plumes of ash blocking out natural sunlight.


As if the UK didn’t have enough to contend with following the hardships of the Second World War, then came along one of the worst winters on record. The alleged cause of the issue was low pressure which allowed freezing easterly winds to sweep over the country.

The temperature in some parts of the UK hit -21 and it snowed for 55 consecutive days between January and March 1947. Of course, lots of snow means lots of water. When the snow inevitably melted, widespread flooding damaged over 100,000 properties and displaced numerous communities.


While the winter of 1962/63 (commonly referred to as the ‘Big Freeze’) was not the coldest winter on record, it was the last time the River Thames froze over. It was, however, one of the coldest winters in 200 years.

The average temperature in January 1963 was -1.9, and even the sea froze for a mile from the coast of Herne Bay, Kent. The cited cause was an anticyclone over Scandinavia that sucked in cold air from central Russia.

10th January 1982 and 30th December 1995

These dates apply to the coldest ever recorded temperatures in the UK, -27.2! The first was in Braemar, East Scotland, and the second was in Altnaharra, North Scotland.

Probably worth mentioning that 1982 was also called ‘The Big Snow’ and is itself on record for one of the coldest winters ever, with the extreme temperatures caused by a drop in high pressure that invited in freezing air from the Arctic.

A year before that, the third lowest temperature ever recorded in the UK was recorded in Shawbury, Midlands on 13th December 1981, when it dropped to -25.2.


United Kingdom's coldest December since Met Office records began in 1910 was recorded in 2010 with an average temperature of -1. It’s likely that climate change is being exacerbated by additional factors. In this instance, low pressure over mainland Europe allowed cold air from East Europe and North Russia into the UK, causing widespread disruption up and down the country.

Alone: Frozen drops six of the show's strongest participants onto the frigid North Atlantic Coast just as winter is setting in. The survivalists must do whatever it takes to survive 50 days in polar bear country and win their share of $50,000. Alone: Frozen begins Thursday, 8 December at 10pm on Sky HISTORY.