Deaths and delays as ‘snowmageddon’ hits UK

Media storm: The weather dominated the front pages of the tabloids, but not the broadsheets.

Are we overreacting to the wintry weather? As snow blankets the UK, newspapers are publishing apocalyptic front pages. The nation faces major disruption, but it has seen worse before…

Yesterday, Britons awoke to ominous news. Most front pages carried a photo of a dark snow-heavy cloud looming over London. The headlines were not reassuring: “Snowmageddon.” “Killer Freeze.” “Monster Weather Snow Bomb.”

The papers were announcing the cold snap that has struck the UK. Temperatures have fallen to levels not experienced in years — even parts of the Arctic Circle are warmer. The heavy snowfall, which is due to continue into the weekend, has played havoc with the nation. Throughout yesterday, rolling media reports described scenes of pleasure, panic and pain.

Families took to the streets as thousands of schools closed. People donned skis in central London. Jeremy Corbyn was seen throwing a snowball. Two thieves were arrested after leaving a trail of footprints. A fight broke out in a shop in Kent, after a customer was accused of trying to “stockpile” milk.

Some areas have been hit harder than others. The Met Office issued a maximum-level “red” warning for central Scotland, where commuters were urged to head home early. A record number of homeless people, most of them in London, were referred to a specialist helpline. Hundreds of homes in Newcastle lost power. Four people died in car crashes.

The snow has come courtesy of the “Beast from the East”, a cold blast that swept out of Siberia and across Europe. Other countries have suffered more extreme weather. Snow reached the normally balmy climates of Rome and Corsica. In Poland, temperatures plummeted to -22°C, and the death toll for the winter climbed to 53.

Even by the UK’s standards, this year’s disruption is not that bad. In 1963, snow covered most of the country for two months. Melting snow in 1928 contributed to flooding which killed 14 people in London alone. Overall, as forecasts have become more accurate and technology has improved, Britons have become better protected against extreme weather.

Given all this, are we making too much of a fuss out of the Beast from the East?

Snow big deal

Definitely, say some. From the Met Office’s constant stream of warnings and the media’s hysterical reporting, you’d think we were being invaded by aliens. Not only does this unnecessarily scare people, it distracts us from important news with long-term effects — the Brexit negotiations, say. The snow doomsayers should grow up and shut up.

But the media’s duty, reply others, is to report on things that impact on us. What could be more important than extreme weather, which affects us all? And these media stories are not just about protecting us from the elements. By creating a common enemy in “snowmageddon”, Britons come together as a nation — even if just for a few days.

You Decide

  1. Is it more important for newspapers to be interesting or informative?
  2. Would the world be a better place if temperatures remained constant throughout the year?

Activities

  1. Imagine this story is being published on the front page of a daily newspaper. Rewrite the headline, and explain your choice to the class.
  2. In groups, draw up an action plan to minimise disruption in your community the next time a snowstorm hits.

Some People Say...

“There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”

John Ruskin

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
This weather can be blamed on a meteorological event called “sudden stratospheric warming”. Air above the Arctic is compressed and heats up quickly. This disrupts the jet streams that distribute weather across the globe. Normally, the UK gets mild weather from the Atlantic, but in these cases cold air swoops in from the east.
What do we not know?
What role climate change is playing in “snowmageddon”. Some experts believe that the melting of the ice caps, which is caused by global warming, is making sudden stratospheric warming events more common. But there is also evidence that cold snaps are becoming rarer — and warmer when they do happen. Either way, it is too early to say what impact climate change has had this time. See Prospect’s article in Become An Expert for more.

Word Watch

Continue
As of today, a new weather system, Storm Emma, will be coming in from the south, threatening more blizzards and icy wind.
Jeremy Corbyn
The Labour leader’s Instagram photos showed him playing in the snow, with the caption #SnowMuchFun.
Met Office
The UK’s national weather service. Its supercomputer digests over ten million weather observations a day, producing highly accurate weather forecasts. The office also advises clients on how to fight climate change.
Red
The Met Office’s warnings come in three levels: yellow, amber and red. The last one means that “widespread damage, travel and power disruption, and risk to life is likely“, and that people should take action to stay safe.
Specialist helpline
StreetLink, an app which lets people contact local services if they are worried about a particular homeless person. The app received more than 3,600 alerts between Monday and Tuesday mornings.
Brexit negotiations
This week has seen key developments on Brexit, not least the European Union’s release of a draft withdrawal agreement.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.