The harsh Winter of 1946–47 in the United Kingdom

The winter of 1946–1947 was a harsh European winter noted for its effects in the United Kingdom, where it was the coldest winter in three centuries.

It caused severe hardships in terms of the economy, and living conditions, and gave the Conservative Party leverage to attack the Labour Party in power. There were massive disruptions of the energy supply for homes, offices and factories. Animal herds froze or starved to death. No one could keep warm, and many businesses shut down temporarily. When warm weather returned, the ice thawed and flooding was severe for most low-lying areas.

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Beginning on 21 January 1947, the UK experienced several cold spells that brought large drifts of snow to the country, blocking roads and railways. It was harder and harder to bring coal to the electric power stations. Many had to shut down, forcing severe restrictions to cut power consumption, including restricting domestic electricity to 19 hours per day and cutting industrial supplies completely.

In addition, radio broadcasts were limited, television services were suspended, some magazines were ordered to stop being published and newspapers were cut in size. These measures badly affected public morale and turned the Minister of Fuel and Power, Emanuel Shinwell, into a scapegoat; he received death threats and had to be placed under police guard. Towards the end of February there were also fears of a food shortage as supplies were cut off and vegetables were frozen into the ground.

Mid-March brought warmer air to the country which thawed the snow lying on the ground. This snowmelt ran off the frozen ground straight into rivers and caused widespread flooding. More than 100,000 properties were affected and the British Army and foreign aid agencies were forced to provide humanitarian aid.

With the cold weather over and the ground thawing there were no further weather problems. The winter had severe effects on British industries, causing the loss of around 10 per cent of the year’s industrial production, 10 to 20 per cent of cereal and potato crops and a quarter of sheep stocks. The ruling Labour Party began to lose popularity, which led to their losing many seats to the Conservative Party in the 1950 election. That winter is also cited as a factor in the devaluation of the pound from $4.03 to $2.80, Britain’s decline from superpower status and the introduction of the Marshall Plan to aid war-torn Europe. The effects on the rest of Europe were also severe, with 150 deaths from cold and famine in Berlin, civil disorder in the Netherlands and business closures in the Republic of Ireland.

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