How often does it snow in May?

Reports of snow showers in parts of the UK over the past 24 hours and the prospect of more on high ground tonight may seem a little out of context at this time of year, but is it unusual?

Snowfall at this time of year isn’t an annual event, so it’s not completely normal, but it’s fair to say it’s not completely unusual either. We last saw snow in May all the way back in… 2011, just last year, and we also saw more snow in 2010.

If we look back through the records dating back to 1910, the snowiest May on record was most likely in 1979 when 342 weather observation sites reported snow on 2 May.

This snowy spell lasted through the whole of the first week of that month. The light snow showers we’ve seen this May seem slight in comparison.

Besides these wintry showers, much has been made in the media of the ‘cold spell’ which is ‘gripping’ the UK this month and the rather unsettled weather we’ve had.

While many people associate May with the start of summer weather, it can actually be a month of very mixed and variable conditions – with wide contrasts possible.

This is borne out by the piece of old weather lore:


Ne’er cast a clout,

Until May is out.


While this rhyme is a bit ambiguous and open to interpretation, one view is that this means don’t throw out your winter clothing (from clout – which means thread or cloth) until May is over – presumably because you can expect virtually any type of weather at this time of year.

So, unsettled and cool weather – even with snow or frosts – isn’t out of context in May despite perceptions that it’s typically a warm and sunny time of year.

This week really sums that up. We are expecting some night-time minimums which are below average – isolated areas in Scotland and northern England could get down to freezing or just below.

During the day, however, temperatures in places could get to 15C or above in parts of southern England – and it may even feel quite warm when the Sun is out, particularly in spots sheltered from the wind.

There will also be some rainfall this week, but many places will see sunny and dry spells too.

So, don’t throw away your summer wear yet – nor your winter woolies.


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9 Responses to How often does it snow in May?

  1. mittfh says:

    Just out of curiosity, since it isn’t too unusual to experience cold / wintry weather in May, how unusual would it be to experience such weather during the summer months (June – August)?

    • Dave Britton says:

      June snowfall is rare but not unheard of. Sleet and snow showers did manage to affect the United Kingdom on 2nd June 1975, affecting a cricket match between Derbyshire and Lancashire at Buxton. Elsewhere, snow settled on hills just south of Birmingham, Cambridge, London and Colchester. Elsewhere, sleet showers were observed in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. More recently isolated snow was reported in June in 1985 and 2009. So unusual but not unprecidented!

  2. jdey123 says:

    April 2012 in Central England was the 257th coldest month from a record going back to 1659 according to the statistics from your own website:-

    This by any stretch of the imagination was unusually cold. May 2012 has thus far proved similarly cold.

    The only reason why you’re producing articles like this is because you’re ideologically attached to the global warming myth.

    Globally, the world hasn’t warmed since 1998 according to HADCRUTv3 and RSS, and has cooled since 2002 according to all dataset providers bar UAH.

  3. Dave Britton says:

    We are not suggesting that April or even the forst half of May have not seen temperatures well below average You are right that April 2012 was the 257th coldest in the 353 year record, but of course that still leaves approx 100 years colder still than the April just gone.
    The post is just putting into perspective the vagaries that spring weather can bring and that it is not unusual to see snow in April or May in the UK, although this year snow has been unusual in that it has occured further south than in previous years.

  4. jdey123 says:

    Ok, but when we had a heatwave for 2 weeks in March, you were quick to hype up March as one of the warmest March’s on record in the UK. Then, we had a notably cold April, yet all we heard was that it was one of the wettest on record.

    You’ve also got an article preceding this which discusses climate models which references an entry in The Guardian which claims that scientists have confidence in climate models as they’ve accurately managed to predict current temperatures. I’ve not seen 1 climate model’s predictions that have consistently matched observations, and The Guardian is a left wing newspaper which pays money to (which is an environmental advocacy site) to produce answers such as that.

    Whenever any newspaper provides a story which states that global warming ended in the late 90s, you also quickly criticise the paper as providing misleading information.

    I strongly object as a taxpayer to having money spent on propaganda to support a failed global warming hypothesis. Please present balanced articles and stick to the facts and provide references to websites where data can be found without accompanying propaganda.

    This graph shows that there have only been 2 periods (1932 to 1938 and 1981 to 1998) totalling 23 years out of a 152 year temperature record which show any warming at all.

    How long are you going to try to continue to hoodwink the public that you are any better at predicting the temperature in 50 years than you are predicting what it will be in 10 years?

    • Dave Britton says:

      Temperatures in April were 0.6 Celsius below the 1971 to 2000 long term average for the UK, making it the 26th coolest April in the record that goes back to 1910. On the other hand April was, as you correctly say, the wettest on the same record back to 1910. I think many would agree that with much of the country under drought conditions at the time, following a prolobged period on below avergae rainfall, that this was the most interesting part of the weather last month.

      It is generally accepted that it is not possible to look at climate trends over periods shorter than 15 years, and ideally this should be over 30 years as it is necessary to remove the ‘natural variability’ of the climate system to identify any true trends. When looking over these time periods the warming trend over the last 150 years is quite clear. See

      The Met Office undertakes impartial science commissioned by government to help inform policy discussions in government. We always endeavour to present news and articles with scientific integrity, that are relevant and topical and that people will find interesting.

      • jdey123 says:

        ‘Natural variability’ doesn’t sound like a scientific term to me. As I mentioned in my post above, global warming has only occurred in 23 years out of 152 years. I’ve presented a graph showing “no global warming” trends that have lasted 82 years (1850 to 1932), 43 years (1938 to 1981) and the current period which has lasted 14 years (1998 to present).

    • whakapai says:

      You can’t predict weather over 50 years but you can use computer modelling to look at climate. As for balanced articles since there is scientific consensus on climate change based on multiple source information, true balance would be 99.9% of media coverage spent on climate change and .1% with the skeptics. Sadly this is not the case.

      What do you think this is a government conspiracy who are infact all about growth a driving factor of amongst many things climate change. If it is a conspiracy it’s rubbish because we are pumping more and more CO2 year after year and there is no forseeable change.

      I hope you don’t live by the coast.

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