annual NASA temperature maps
from December to November:
Records, Records – Introduction
to the unexpected
“We noticed this especially in the increasing mildness of the
winters, which became more and
more striking between 1900 and 1939, and surprisingly a series of three
severe winters followed”, recalled
M. Rodewald few years after the
winter 1939/40 had taken reign (Rodewald,
1948). That was widely anticipated, but the term “severe winter” is
rather abstract in order to realize the scope and intensity of the
Temperature is certainly the most important
feature of winter, and it will receive the bulk of attention when talking
about records. But there are other parameters as well, which should be
taken into account when analysing a severe winter and trying to identify
the role man played for this to occur. Before looking more deeply into
this aspect, in the following sections, a brief overview of some
temperature and weather observations made during the first winter in WWII
will be discussed.
General Frost served
with three cold events of considerable intensity during the winter
1939/40. From a meteorological point of view, there was a fourth cold wave
in the first half of March 1940, which can, at least partially, be
attributed to the excessive sea ice cover in the Baltic. Presumably, the
most stunning was the arrival of the third wave in mid February, which has
already been mentioned in the pervious section (C1), and which resulted in
temperatures of 9°C to 10°C below mean,
across the region between Hamburg and Warsaw, see Fig. C2-2, p. 49.
winter T°C, 1880-2005
December 1939: All
in all, December cannot be regarded as spectacular, at least not in
the winter started off mildly, but it became cooler during the first
fortnight of December. The first cold spell came during the latter half of
__On the German coast of the
the first sea ice appeared around December 17 and remained there until the
end of the winter.
the winter started with freezing on December 8th.
__A cold wave caught e.g.
, -17°C; and
, -14°C around Christmas time.
the last week of the year the temperatures varied strongly at many German
stations, but dropped considerably during some nights, for example on
, -14°C; and
very severe temperature drama took place in
where the Soviet Union had been at war since November 30th 1939. The so called “winter war” is
subject in a special section, as there exist many newspaper reports
showing that in the second half of December extreme low temperatures had
already been recorded. Presumably not all of them are correct, and some
may be propaganda for whatsoever reasons. This could also be true in the
following unbelievable story of war dramatics, but as it was written by a
NYT correspondent and published by the New York Times on December 25th,
one should listen critically what he had to report (excerpt), until proven
as a lie:
Report by James Aldridge: “The cold numbs the brain in this Arctic hell,
snow sweeps over the darkened wastes, the winds howl and the temperature
is 30 degrees below zero (minus 34.4° C). Here the Russians and Finns are
battling in blinding snowstorms for possession of ice-covered forests.
…I reached the spot just after the battle ended. It was the most
horrible sight I had ever seen. As if the men had been suddenly turned to
wax, there were two or three thousand Russians and a few Finns, all frozen
in fighting attitudes. Some were locked together, their bayonets within
each other’s bodies; some were frozen in half-standing positions; some
were crouching with their arms crooked, holding the hand grenades they
were throwing; some were lying with their rifles shouldered, their legs
apart….Their fear was registered on the frozen faces. Their bodies were
like statues of men throwing all their muscles and strength into some work,
but their faces recorded something between bewilderment and horror.” (NYT,
December 25 , 1939).
The arrival of winter was also felt in more southern regions:
28, 1939; Snow storms sweep
(Frankfurter Zeitung, December 29, 1939);
29; Ice closes
to German supplies; Rail traffic expected to be hampered by snow (NYT, Dec.
29; From Agram in
temperature of minus 32°C is reported. (Neue
Zürcher Zeitung, Dec. 31);
–10°C. during Saturday night.
and Triest heavy snow storms (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Dec. 31, 1939).
30; “An unprecedented and severe snow storm in
region today indirectly caused a train wreck in…”. “
’s heaviest snowfall in recorded history - six inches - …” (NYT,
December 31, 1939, and the Neue
Zürcher Zeitung, Jan. 2, 1940), but snow fall lasted for only eight hours.
The snow melted away in a few hours on January 1st 1940;
30; Rome covered by 25-30 cm snow; Venice minus 5°C; Finland’s Arctic
Front minus 48°C; record cold in Sweden and Norway with minus 40°C;
severe cold in Yugoslavia with minus 23°C (Frankfurter Zeitung);
31; cold wave in
;, the lowest values at Rustschuk on the
with minus 20°C. Banja Luka/Westbosnia: minus 27°C; in Slovenian cities
Dec. 31st 1940; The Atlantic island
reports a violent storm on Sunday (December 31) with heavy flooding. (Neue
Zürcher Zeitung, January 2 1940).
the night of the 23rd, a minimum of -23.3C was recorded
at Rhaydaer(Powys) a record low for that date. Other lows include
measured as lowest −42.2 °C (−44.0 °F).
as records are only one side of the picture, a brief list of
selected events reported by the New York Times,
NYT, if not otherwise indicated, is herewith produced.
__ January 01: All navigation on
stopped owing to ice (Frankcom, 1940).
__ January 08: Record frost in Northern and
__ January 11:
__ January 11: Sea freezing in the Black Sea near
__ January 11:
__ January 11: Riga –41°C/; Budapest –26°C;Vienna –25°C,
Sofia –22°C (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, NZZ, Jan. 11.)
__ January 13:
extreme cold, Don Region –38°C (NZZ, 14. Jan).
__ January 13:
, the bitterest cold wave for years (-40°F).
__ January 15:
__ January 17: Cold paralyses
said that the temperature was at freezing point on Monday morning (January
15) and yesterday morning at 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Then
it tumbled to 47.2 degrees below zero – a drop of 79.2 degrees in
about thirty-six hours. (NYT,
The cold that made the winter special showed up in January 1940.
Many things happened of which only few can be mentioned. There was
for example the all time record for
with −41.0 °C /−41.8 °F at Siedlce, Województwo
Mazowieckie, on January 11th 1940. Two weeks later England
cought up with the cold.
__ January 17:
__ January 17: Sella/Finland, above the
–48°C/-54°F; also Viborg.
__ January 21:
__ January 21: Rhayader/Wales/UK –23°C.
__ January 22: Severe snow storm swept Europe from the
__ January 26: NYT-headline: ‘Cold Greater Foe than the Germans
for French Army in Front Lines.
Most Severe Winter in Generations…’
__ January 28: In the close vicinity of
has frozen for the first time since 1814.
Zürcher Zeitung, Jan. 29)
__ January 29: ‚Icy Storm hits
has Heavy Snow’.
January 31: (
) Newspapers permitted to publish the first details of the blizzard,
called it the coldest weather in a century.
- Last but not least: It
is to note that the coldest January ever recorded in
is January 1940, during which also the lowest ever recorded
temperature was observed with: −42.2 °C (−44.0 °F)
(source: wikipedia/Climate of
C-3; Mid February low T°C
was released from the arctic grip during the first days of February,
whereas the continent remained governed by General Frost, as
illustrated by a few examples selected from many NYT reports:
__ February 13;
suffered tonight in the paralyzing grip of the bitterest cold in
more than 100 years. (NYT, Feb. 14, 1940)
__ February 13;
. The temperature has dropped to 13 degrees below zero Fahrenheit
(-25°C). (NYT, Feb. 14, 1940).
__ February 13; Baltic countries. In
more than 10,000 persons suffered severe frostbite. At least five
persons froze to death in the three Baltic countries, where
temperatures reached 54 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (- 47.7°C)
recently for the first time in 160 years (NYT, Feb. 14, 1940).
__ February 20, 1940; In
all cold records were broken in the last twenty-four hours with 32
degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-35.5°C), the coldest since 1805.
The previous record in
was 22 F degrees below zero.
tonight 2 degrees above zero Fahrenheit. (NYT, Feb. 21, 1940).
C2-4, T°C deviations in Feb.1940
c. More remarkable weather events
Too little and too much rain.
The war started with a very annoying lack of rain for
, which the military had expected to defend their country against the
German invaders because of mud and impassable roads. Instead, it rained
heavily in Western Europe, from
at a number of stations above average by 200% in September, and sometimes
300% in October and November. Also the USA experienced contrasts between
heavy rain and high dryness (see TM5, p. 59), which raises the question,
whether a too dry Northern Hemisphere paved the way for General Frost to
increase his influence in regions outside the Arctic during the
forthcoming winter. More details in a later section.
, January 27, 1940. A blizzard raged over the
last Saturday (January 27).
Newspapers permitted publishing the first details of the blizzard, called
it the coldest weather in a century. (NYT, Feb. 1st.). On Jan.
28 the NYT titled the event:
“British Cold Snap Can Now Be Told. Military Censorship on
the Weather Lifted – Freeze Severest Since 1894. 7-Degrees Low in
. Press Has Noted Subzero Spell in
without a word of Arctic conditions locally.”
lasting from 26th to 29th, vast areas covered with
snow, high snow drifts, e.g. Exmore 2,5m. Main drift between Ringshall and
), 15 feet/4,57m (Hawke, 1940).
__Ice-storm. The duration of the storm was remarkable lasting up to 48
hours in some places. For instance at Cirencester, 48 hours of freezing
rain fell in temperatures of between -2° and -4°C. This is an
exceptional event in the
, and that of 1940 is reckoned to be the severest that has struck the
in recorded history. It is also claimed that the harbors in Southampton
and Folkestone were frozen, as well as the
close vicinity of
has frozen for the first time since 1814.
Zürcher Zeitung, January 29, 1940).
brief chronicle illustrates for what Adolf Hitler and his consorts should
be held responsible. The extreme conditions were not mere ‘natural
variations’ but a special force must have goten upper hand: Unfortunately
the weather services did not see anything, they ignored any signs, and
demonstrated how little they understood about the mechanisms that drive
weather. Even during war time, this ignorance is difficult to accept. Most
of the referred data were published by the newspapers often within one or
two days. These data may not always represent the correct figures, but
they did draw a fairly correct picture about the stunning winter story.
The New York Times is a miracle in this respect, and it is not only
outstanding to read, but a very rich and valuable source of historical
weather research. The marvelous job The New York Times did, cannot be
appreciated highly enough. Their reporting was outstanding, excellent,
comprehensive, detailed and prompt.
short summary is available at: http://www.ukweatherworld.co.uk/forum/index.php?/topic/49321-the-severe-winter-of-1939-40-a-special-report/;
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