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Examining the social consequences of extreme weather: the outcomes of the 1946/1947 winter in upland Wales, UK

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Extreme forms of weather are predicted to become more frequent experiences in the future. However, the hardest event to mitigate against is the unexpected. In the UK, the occurrence of winter snowfall is difficult to predict, highly variable, both spatially and temporally and predicted to become less common in the future. This paper examines the consequences of the severe winter of 1946/1947 at the local scale through a Welsh case study of Cwm Tywi, a community of upland sheep farms. This community had shown great resilience during the snowiest winter on record in comparison with other, more urban communities, but the inhabitants eventually abandoned their homes because of the emotional distress caused by the loss of a large proportion of the livestock. In addition to the severity of the snow, perceptions of the extreme nature of this event and the community’s ability to mitigate as a result of rurality, self-sufficiency and remoteness are investigated through the analysis of interviews, oral histories, and other documentary accounts. This case study provides an insight into the complexity of understanding vulnerability, adaptation and resilience, which are temporally and spatially specific.

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  1. having a mean of −1.9°C. From Mean HadCET Data, 1659–2011, Monthly ranked HadCET mean (Parker et al. 1992). These data can be found at

  2. Kaiser (1974) argues that the 1947 snow was one of the ingredients of an enormous coincidence which resulted in the Truman Doctrine. This is because the fuel crisis in the UK, worsened by the weather conditions, diminished the country’s position as a world leader and economic strength, requiring the relinquishment of its control over Greece and Turkey. It was feared that this would lead to civil wars and a Communist takeover, eventually resulting in Soviet domination in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The USA, through the Truman Doctrine, decided to apply its power and resources in Europe and the Near East to counteract Soviet power, and this began the confrontation which resulted in the Cold War.

  3. Note that Wales’ population increased from 2,593,332 (1931) to 2,596,850 (1951) (National Statistics 2001).

  4. These are current land classifications for Less Favoured Areas (LFA) according to both natural limitations to farming (e.g. climate, location, landscape) and socio economic considerations.

  5. The first farm, Nant-Neuadd, was vacated in 1947. The last farm, Dolgoch, was vacated in 1967. During that period, the family at Dolgoch experienced the departure of the families of Y Fanog (pre-1950), Tywi Fechan (1950), Nant-ystalwyn (1955), Bron-yr-Helm (1956) and Nantyrhwch (1960) (Jones 2007).

  6. Davies (c.1960–70s) Mrs Davies of Cartref, Pontrhydfendigaid: Memories of Soar y Mynydd. National Library of Wales Screen and Sound Archive, Copy RM 6303 Disc 2 62

  7. Hughes B (2009) The Valley. From Warfare to Welfare 1939–1959. Created by Cadw Sŵn Theatre Company. Recorded 7 June 2009. Accessed 10 August 2010

  8. This deficit would also incorporate the lack of wartime weather forecasts. During a state of emergency no newspaper was allowed to carry weather forecasts (Air Ministry 1954). The restrictions were removed on the 8th of May, 1945, with the first forecast in the Times appearing on the following day: The Times (09/05/1945) Weather News Again. Forecast to-day: Warm and thundery

  9. According to the most number of days with snow depth of 6 cm or more at selected stations, as calculated by Shellard (1968)

  10. Davies (c.1960–70s) Mrs Davies of Cartref, Pontrhydfendigaid: Memories of Soar y Mynydd. National Library of Wales Screen and Sound Archive, Copy RM 6303 Disc 2 62

  11. Included as a clip in: BBC Archives, Cardiff. A Year to Remember: 1: 1947. Audio recording, duration 027m00s. BBC Radio 2 Broadcast date 10 November 1996. SCN 644/96 FT 3650. The original broadcast was a Children’s Hour episode on World Affairs presented by Commander Stephen King Hall. Broadcast date 25 March 1947. BBC Sound Archive reference 9LL0008826.

  12. Presenter’s recollection of 1947 in 1996: BBC Archives, Cardiff. A Year to Remember: 1: 1947. Audio recording, duration 027m00s. BBC Radio 2 Broadcast date 10 November 1996. SCN 644/96 FT 3650

  13. Anonymous (1976) Personal Memoirs. Unpublished. [anonymised upon the request of the family]

  14. Anonymous Interviewee 1 (2009) Primary interview conducted by C.A. Jones 02-03-2009

  15. Welsh Gazette (30/01/1947) Transport Grant for Hill Farmers. Aberystwyth Chronicle and West Wales Advertiser

  16. Anonymous Interviewee 1 (2009) Primary interview conducted by C.A. Jones 02-03-2009

  17. 25th February 1947: Williams E (1947) Personal weather diaries, Dolau, Pentre Bach, Lampeter, Wales. Unpublished

  18. Anonymous Interviewee 1 (2009) Primary interview conducted by C.A. Jones 02-03-2009

  19. Jones E (1997) Cofio Eira 1947. Fferm a Thyddyn 20:26–27

  20. For instance, 30 loaves of bread were baked for the shearing of 1943 in the old brick oven of Dolgoch. The isolation was also why the milk from Dolgoch’s cows could not be sold and was for their own consumption, as it was not feasible to transport it to the nearest town on a daily basis. Bread is of a similar, perishable nature. The commute to Tregaron was not made regularly, hence they would make their own loaves as opposed to buying bread from shops (letter by Pat Walters in Jones 2007).

  21. From 10th February 1947 in the Southeast, Midlands, Northwest and London (Robertson 1987: 88), and from 13th February 1947 in the remaining areas of the UK (The Times, 13/02/1947 p. 4: Coal A “Major Military Operation”). The cuts in domestic electricity continued until May 5th, 1947 (The Times, 05/05/1947 p. 8: Heating restrictions in force to-day), replaced by summer space-heating restrictions.

  22. Government electricity cuts to industry began on 20th January, 1947, and were progressively lifted from 24th February, 1947, onwards (Robertson 1987).

  23. e.g. Edna Foxon from Upton. On: BBC Archives, Cardiff. The Weather Show (1997). Video recording, duration 04m00s. Broadcast date 11 February 1997. LPR U856D/71

  24. This was the stance taken by the Government at the time. Robertson (1987) provides a detailed account of the circumstances that led to coal shortages in the UK. To summarise, there were low coal stocks and electricity cuts before the snow, as early as October 1946, in consequence to the Second World War. However, the adverse weather conditions exacerbated the situation.

  25. Anonymous Interviewee 2 (2009) Primary interview conducted by C.A. Jones 26-10-2009

  26. Doris Graham from Martock. On: BBC Archives, Cardiff. The Weather Show (1997). Video recording, duration 04m00s. Broadcast date 11 February 1997. LPR U856D/71

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  28. Jones M (1947) Personal diary (unpublished), Dolgoch, Tregaron, Wales

  29. Anonymous Interviewee 1 (2009) Primary interview conducted by C.A. Jones 02-03-2009

  30. Ceredigion County Council (1947) Snow Clearing, 1947. County Council Deposits: Highways. Ceredigion Archives, CDC/HI/2/8

  31. Welsh Gazette (20/03/1947) The Italians at Borth. Aberystwyth Chronicle and West Wales Advertiser

  32. Welsh Gazette (10/04/1947) The Snow Bill. Aberystwyth Chronicle and West Wales Advertiser

  33. Welsh Gazette (20/03/1947) The Italians at Borth. Aberystwyth Chronicle and West Wales Advertiser

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The authors would like to thank the following: the Welsh Medium Centre of Higher Education for the funding of the main author’s PhD; Ian Gulley and Sandra Mather from the Geography departments at Aberystwyth University and the University of Liverpool for the production of the map; and, Professor Rhys A Jones (Aberystwyth University), Dr Cathryn Charnell-White (University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies), Dr Georgina H Endfield and Dr Carol Morris (University of Nottingham) and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and changes. Thank-you also goes to Alexander Hall, University of Manchester, for information and references on the censorship of weather forecasts in wartime newspapers. Finally, we wish to thank the archives visited (the National Library of Wales and its Screen and Sound Archive, Ceredigion Archives and the BBC archives at Cardiff) and archivists for their help, and for the kindness of many individuals who welcomed us for interviews, and to read their personal collections of memoirs, diaries etc.

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Correspondence to C. A. Jones.

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Jones, C.A., Davies, S.J. & Macdonald, N. Examining the social consequences of extreme weather: the outcomes of the 1946/1947 winter in upland Wales, UK. Climatic Change 113, 35–53 (2012).

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