uses cookies. By continuing to browse this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Click here to find out more »
Dublin: 9 °C Saturday 24 March, 2018

So how will The Beast compare to the Big Snow of '82?

It won’t even come close, says one expert.

Source: Daithi333/YouTube

PRETTY SOON WE will all have had our fill of the Beast from the East, the influx of Siberian air that’s set to have us all cowering under duvets with multiple hot water bottles until the week is out.

A common thread of the coverage of the Beast thus far has been a comparison with the innovatively-monikered Big Snow of 1982.

Yes, 36 years ago Ireland was gripped in a similar frosty grip as Old Man Winter gave one last petulant kick before giving way to spring.

On 8 January that year, a severe cold snap kicked in which saw the whole island covered in snow for 10 days. The Big Snow was appropriately named – the unprecedented blizzard saw record levels of snow and saw many areas cut off from the rest of civilisation.

Obviously there have been more recent cold snaps (in 2010 and 2011 for example). In 1982, as now, however the east of the country was the worst affected, with 25 centimetres of the wintry white stuff falling at Dublin Airport.

Source: Niall Lewis/YouTube

The snowstorm resulted in traffic chaos across the country, and saw fuel and food shortages together with mass school (for as long as two weeks in some places) and workplace closures. Not that everyone minded of course.

It was the worst such spell of wintry conditions seen since the unprecedented winter of 1963 – the similarly imaginatively-titled Big Freeze.

5 Drivers digging their cars free on the Naas Road in Dublin in January 1982 Source: RTÉ Archives

Brendan O’Brien, in a report for RTÉ News, told of some of the ways life had been affected along the east coast.

55,000 homes were left without electricity across the country within 24 hours of the blizzard hitting, while drivers and householders were left having to dig themselves out of massive snowdrifts.

Train stations and airports were forced to close, with 400 passengers left stranded overnight at Dublin’s Heuston Station due to frozen railway points.

And, in a break from the norm with such weather events, the capital was as badly affected (worse really) as everywhere else, with most of the main traffic channels into Dublin rendered impassable.

Winter had well and truly come.

6 People having a whale of a time sledding in the Phoenix Park during the Big Snow, 1982 edition Source: RTÉ Archives

As bad as that?

So is the Beast really going to be as bad as the Big Snow? Probably not.

“It’s certainly unlikely to be a record event, in terms of duration or impact, but it’s not really clear how it will unfold,” Peter Thorne, Professor of Physical Geography at Maynooth University, told

The major potential for snow is on Thursday or Friday, but we’ll know more as the forecasts emerge today.

Thorne is of the opinion that Met Éireann “is quite right” not to have put any red-level warnings out regarding the coming storm. “Until we know more it’s the right approach.”

It seems that the level of impact (particularly the level of precipitation – snowfall in this instance) the Beast will have depends on a front of low pressure emerging from Iberia, and how it interacts with the Siberian low temperatures encroaching from the east.

“If that front turns left 50 kilometres early, Ireland will be spared the worst. If it turns left 50 kilometres later, we’re going to see a far greater impact. It comes down to really small variances in the prediction model,” says Thorne. “We’ll know more in a couple of days.”

He says that the coming storm will have more in common with the big freezes of 2010 and 2011, which were far from pleasant (and lead to the immortalisation of this poor soul), but will have nothing on the events of 1982, or 1963 (when The Big Freeze lasted a frankly ludicrous four months with recorded temperatures as low as -22.2 degrees celsius), or even 1947 for that matter.

“But it’s such a rare event today. We have to question that. Because the main reason is climate change – put simply it’s just warmer now than it was 50 or 60 years ago,” says Thorne.

It’s certainly going to be cold, there will be snow, and we need to be thinking of looking after the vulnerable, and of taking precautions, like leaving a tap dripping to stop a freeze in your pipes.

“But it’s very late in season, and the sun is warm, so I don’t think we’re looking at a very long-lived event.

So, we may be in for a week of red cheeks and frostbitten fingers, but the Beast has its work cut out if it wants to be as troublesome as the Big Snow. Let battle commence.

Read: What exactly is the ‘Beast from the East’? And why is it going to be absolutely freezing this week?

Read: Here are the plans in place to get Ireland through Storm Emma

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

Leave a commentcancel

Trending Tags