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Why The Beast from the East had such a savage bite

PUBLISHED: 11:01 02 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:03 03 March 2020

The streets of Ipswich were covered in a blanket of white as the 2018 Beast from the East blew in      Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The streets of Ipswich were covered in a blanket of white as the 2018 Beast from the East blew in Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Two years on, we look at what caused the 2018 freeze and how it impacted on Suffolk

Bury St Edmunds two years ago after being hit by the Beast from the East      Picture: GREGG BROWNBury St Edmunds two years ago after being hit by the Beast from the East Picture: GREGG BROWN

His real name didn't sound scary but we knew Anticyclone Hartmut better by his nickname: The Beast from the East.

Two years ago he brought heavy snow and unusually-low temperatures. What made it worse was that Hartmut teamed up with Storm Emma like a pair of delinquent teenagers.

We felt things changing from February 22, 2018, and were soon "enjoying" very cold Siberian air. You'd think we'd almost be clear of the woods at the tail end of a February, what with spring being around the corner, but snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures made life difficult.

We shouldn't look back and think it was all snowmen and sledging. Health workers braved blizzards to keep hospitals running, schools closed, and 95 people died across Europe and Scandinavia - 17 of them in the UK. Victims included a seven-year-old girl in Cornwall struck by a car sliding on ice.

An artistic snowy scene at Felixstowe two years ago     Picture: Tim Garrett-MooreAn artistic snowy scene at Felixstowe two years ago Picture: Tim Garrett-Moore

Closer to home, a man suffered a fatal heart attack while helping a driver at Bergh Apton, between Beccles and Norwich.

A park in Norway, near the centre of Anticyclone Hartmut, experienced a gust of 116 mph.

On February 27, 2018, Lowestoft witnessed thundersnow - rare in the UK. It is, as the name suggests, snow (not the usual rain) falling as thunder rumbles and lightning flashes. The cause is the same: a warm pocket of air colliding with colder air above.

Seven schools closed in the Waveney area early that day, and by 9am almost 900 Greater Anglia train services had been cancelled.

The Beast from the East covered Ipswich Waterfront in a blanket of snow in 2018       Picture: EMILY TOWNSENDThe Beast from the East covered Ipswich Waterfront in a blanket of snow in 2018 Picture: EMILY TOWNSEND

In Suffolk, many people struggled - and often failed - to get to work as the beast gripped us. It was especially bad in rural areas, where roads were blocked quickly by falling and drifting snow. Many farmers used tractors to pull cars clear of ditches and banked-up snow.

If you didn't have to go anywhere in particular, it could be magical. The slopes of Christchurch Park in Ipswich again became a magnet for sledgers; snowboarding was possible in some Felixstowe streets; and an aardvark at Kessingland's Africa Alive! park witnessed snow for the first time.

Like most bullies, the Beast from the East didn't hang around. It had pretty much disappeared by March 5 - leaving us to reflect.

The lowest temperature recorded in Britain and Ireland had been −14 C (at Cairn Gorm, in the Scottish Highlands). The strongest winds were measured at 70mph. Gloucestershire had the biggest snowfall, at 57cm.

Suffolk takes on a Russian look in this photograph from 2018    Picture: Nick PiggottSuffolk takes on a Russian look in this photograph from 2018 Picture: Nick Piggott

According to the Met Office, "The 'Beast from the East' is a phrase used to describe cold and wintry conditions in the UK as a result of a polar continental air mass.

"When pressure is high over Scandinavia, the UK tends to experience a polar continental air mass.

"When this happens in winter, cold air is drawn in from the Eurasian landmass, bringing the cold and wintry conditions that give rise to the 'Beast from the East' moniker."

With a trek over the North Sea, "the air becomes unstable and moisture is added, giving rise to showers of rain or snow, especially near the east coast of Britain." (Yes, we remember it well...)

An incredible picture of Ipswich Town's Portman Road ground, covered in snow, during the Beast from the East period in 2018      Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNAn incredible picture of Ipswich Town's Portman Road ground, covered in snow, during the Beast from the East period in 2018 Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

"The UK's lowest temperatures usually occur in this air mass: lower than minus 10 C at night, and sometimes remaining below freezing all day."

Any lessons we could draw? It's always good to have torches and batteries to hand, and a store of non-perishable food, just in case. And it was cheering to see so many people refusing to be defeated by the elements - battling in to work, for instance, and helping neighbours and strangers.

And those of us who don't relish cold and snowy days can take comfort in this from the Met Office: "Polar continental air only reaches Britain between November and April. At other times of the year, the source region is neither cold nor snow-covered, and winds from northeastern Europe bring a form of tropical continental air."

Ah, tropical. Now you're talking...

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