Will it snow or will it not?, if I had asked myself this question during October and November 2012 then I would have been expecting a severe Winter for the entire run up to Christmas if the media were to be believed, however this was not the case. Cold and snow lovers had their eyes glued to computer screens checking every model run in the hope of seeing some potential for a big Wintry breakdown and on numerous occasions the charts teased us with promises of the beast from the E causing mayhem across the country however as the time frame got closer the models suddenly changed in the last minute and pulled the plug on any hope of getting a white Christmas or even a snow flake for that matter. Christmas 2012 and early Winter was an uneventful period with the mildest December I can ever recall and it seemed most days and nights were covered by clouds, rain, or fog. By mid January 2013 a rapid change began to appear on all the model runs and the days which followed turned into a forecasters nightmare with perhaps the most extreme variation in model output anyone has ever seen, it was certainly a time of anxiety and great excitement to see what would happen.
A 'battleground scenario' summed up the weather chaos during this time. Mild Atlantic air was moving in from the W from the usual low pressure story at this time of year however further away to the E high pressure began to build which opened up a gate way of frigid air which propagated eastward over the UK all the way from Russia and with it came the risk of snow. Where that freezing air clashed with Atlantic frontal systems would be the region to watch however every model update shifted the position of the cold air and warm fronts so no one could really nail down if and where snow would fall. Then the models seemed to make up their minds and soon snow was falling over large sections of Britain and in the days ahead the risk zone moved into N. Ireland and with it came my first real chance of seeing proper snow this season and by Jan 18th I was out chasing. Weather warnings were out for rain, sleet, and snow with the latter on high ground however as the day went on that freezing air from the E would move in and undercut a frontal system which would intensify precip rates and turn sleet more readily to snow. This snow risk combined with gale force winds prompted the Met Office to issue an amber alert - their second highest warning - for snow, ice, and blizzard conditions on the hills and mountains.
As usual when there is a chance of exciting photogenic weather I didn't sleep much during the night before because of the anticipation of what might happen the following day so I spent those sleepless hours going over the models and charts, checking radar and chat on the forums so I could learn everything I could about the set-up then I checked fuel was in the car, shovel in the boot, de-icer, and warm clothes all set out and ready with the camera fully charged with sensor cleaned, dust removed from all four lenses and video camera charged. By morning I felt full of energy despite the lack of sleep and no doubt my adrenal gland kept me going, perhaps it knew this would be the first of seven days on snow trips so it was getting me prepared. Sleet had been falling all night and by morning it had become more substantial and as the warm front moved NE across N.I it began to fall as snow in random places and I followed the live reports on Facebook and Twitter which provided me with an accurate mental picture of what was going on.
By midday the front was over mid Ulster showing moderate strength echoes and when I looked outside I could see it was snowing, however the snow flakes were tiny so after another hour I decided to take a drive up the mountain to see what was happening. After a latte-to-go and bar of chocolate at the local filling station I drove up Glenshane Pass and it was then that a great transformation took place. It seemed that the real Winter weather was happening above the 200m mark and in an instant I was driving through a snow storm that was potent enough to get me rather excited. There was a good dusting on the roads and the country off the road was already under it's first layer of snow of 2013. I spent the entire afternoon driving through the back roads taking snaps of the snow cover for the record and soon I was mentally saying 'wow' and 'yes' as the that colder air kicked in making the snow turn heavier and as the strong winds impacted the exposed mountain a blizzard began to stir and that produced the most spectacular sights of the day. I have a fond memory of sitting on a narrow country road watching those strong winds blowing the snow across the marshland and fields in the form of a vast grey-white cloud moving rapidly in a horizontal direction in proper blizzard fashion. I was loosing light fast which made photography very difficult so I drove into a lay by near the top of Glenshane Pass and began taking stills and video of the traffic battling against the elements. Check out the visibility in the above image, the side of the lorry was completely invisible, that's not fog but snow blowing through the air in the direction of the traffic from L to R.
Rush hour at dusk, my other lenses were useless for imaging in this light so I took most of this day's captures using the fast Canon 50mm F/1.8 lens so I could take hand held shots through the open driver's window, I angled the car in such a way to take the full brunt of the wind and snow however some flakes still made it inside the car. The headlights here have nicely illuminated the snow blowing across the road, when the wind gusted great volumes of powdery snow would sweeping across the road like rapid moving white snakes which curved and twisted to reveal the secret eddies and passage of the otherwise invisible wind. I hadn't seen blowing snow like this since the great Glenshane blizzard of 2010, however this was not near that scale but seeing it develop visually like this reminded me of that mighty night, this was a visual clue that this wasn't an ordinary snow event, in fact, this would make itself known and could well last into the days ahead.
When light got too low I decided to call it a day as the roads were getting extremely dangerous, the winds were blowing hard, snow was falling with greater intensity and the temp was dropping like a stone so after a long wait for a break in the traffic I made it onto the main road, which was white instead of black, and began descending Glenshane, everyone was driving extremely slowly with full respect for the weather however I saw cars sliding in front of me and a lot of break lights going on and off on down the road, I soon found out why, I gently applied the breaks and nothing happened, the car just slid on its own down the main road!, ice had already formed under the snow so it was now a very dangerous road to be on. I put on my hazards to let others know, however the action wasn't needed as they were having the same problem as I, we all managed to get control again and with generous spacing between the traffic we had room to find ourselves and gain control which was a great relief.
Here's a video clip just over 9 min's in duration showing various snow scenes on my first day chasing showing traffic driving on snow and the blowing snow/blizzard ripping across the fields and grass which was a personal highlight of the day. I filmed that snow mostly from inside the car with the window down however the few times that I did go outside to film and take images was like walking into hell, talk about a wild day with raw temps, I was just glad to be back in the heat of the car again.
Darkness fell quickly and I was back home checking out the updates on the net and saw many reports of snow across N. Ireland. The snow began to fall very heavily in Maghera and it never stopped and despite the ground not freezing yet the snow began to settle anyway due to the sheer volume of flakes falling. Looking across the estate from my bedroom window looked like a Winter wonderland, it really was so magical, nature had come through in the end and now it was here to be enjoyed. Several hours passed with it snowing continuous then I began to get concerned about my girlfriend Roisin who was due to arrive on the bus at Glenshane because several bus services had been cancelled and there was trouble on the M2 motorway with snow there which caused the road to be briefly closed. This was followed by Donna Traynor via BBC Newsline reporting that the Glenshane Pass had been closed due to dangerous driving conditions.
Roisin and I kept in touch via text and she informed me she was on the bus so it looked like the 212 was still in operation so I crossed my fingers it would come to no grief on the road. Meanwhile I drove to the bus stop car park at the bottom of Glenshane Pass and enjoyed a surreal snow fall on my own with the large snow flakes and snow cover cast into an eerie orange colour from the street lights which threw hundreds of moving snow shadows. Here's another hand held shot taken with the nifty fifty showing the falling snow below the lights and the cover already forming on the parked cars. Roisin arrived safely however the bus had to leave her at the top of the road so she had to walk down to the car park but she was here and that was the main thing. Heavy snow fell all night long and before I went to sleep I saw a good 4" on the garden shed roof. Meanwhile on Glenshane a full-on blizzard was raging during the night hours and the gusts knocked out power in 2,500 homes in N. I so it was a rather lively night indeed.
Saturday Jan 19th, Roisin and I were already up and ready for a full day's snow chasing. It had snowed all night long with blizzard conditions so I was eager to see what Glenshane Pass looked like. There were still light snow flurries over Maghera which was great and looking at the forecast it looked like more was on the way accompanied by yet more weather warnings. We had breakfast out then drove back up Glenshane Pass for day two of Winter madness, thankfully the main road had been cleared so it was safe to drive on however the side roads and fields were untouched so we got to see first hand what had happened during the night. We drove over the cattel grid at the top and parked to check out the scenes, the snow was too deep to drive any further anyway. The bushes were covered in thick accumulations and there was obvious snow drifts and ice formations too.
There was easily +6" of snow resting on the bushes, this particular formation looked really cool, here it is up close and personal with the 10mm wide angle. For some strange reason this reminded me of the mushrooms in Super Mario Land. The snow cover around this bush flanking the road was 10" thick in places, perhaps more, I know this because I was walking through it like a kid on Christmas morning with boots and trousers covered in snow.
This is the country road which had a widespread cover of rime ice which only forms in severe conditions, the streaks in the ice are the frozen evidence of severe winds shaping the snow during the previous night's blizzard, there was strange honeycomb-shaped rime segments along the surface too.
After a period of frozen hands and photography we got back on the road again and headed W along the main Glenshane road on high ground. While driving along I glanced out the window and noticed that the entire length of wire fence running parallel to the road was covered in clear ice, I went out to check and was happy to see that it was glaze ice covering the barbed wire so I got back in the car and drove on then I stopped once again when I noticed a more impressive scene to my R so I parked on the hard shoulder and ran across the road with the camera to check it out. This entire area was a stunning mix of snow and snow rime ice, the snow rime covered grass, branches, wire fencing and fence posts for as far as the eye could see along this road so I began taking 10mm stills and some video footage.
Some areas were covered in snow rime, others in snow and yet others with rime and snow together or glaze ice covered with snow so there was a goldmine of Winter wonders on offer here.
Several inches of thick rime covering the branches and twigs, look how fine those branches are compared to the snow and rime which they are encased in, all the branches where bent down under the weight of the rime. This area is completely open to the E so all night long these trees and bushes would have been attacked by blowing snow followed by ice.
Thick coating of snow rime on the wire fence, look at the detail along the side of the fence post and the top wire is surrounded in inches of the stuff.
I wouldn't like to have been standing here at 03.00 last night, it must have been brutal out there, Glenshane never fails to deliver when it comes to Winter weather.
It's no wonder there were homes without electricity. Snow, gales, and ice formations seriously stress power lines to the point were they can break and that's probably what happened in conjunction with the winds, this top wire is a good example of that. The following day I saw road crews repairing the lines attached to the telegraph poles near this very area.
I was buried deep into this complex world of ice and snow, the snow was very solid and frozen with ice in places and at almost felt like a sin crunching through the virgin formation. This was taken looking through the rime-covered trees and back out towards the main road, if you look carefully through the branches to the L you can see my car parked across the road.
My only complaint today was that we didn't get a clear sky, had this snow been lit by the sun with a crisp blue sky background the image potential would have been amazing, however I won't complain because it doesn't get any more dramatic than this, cloudy or not. Those streaks on the wind-facing side of the branches indicate rime ice which is usually white in colour, a good 2" of the stuff on this side of the branch with another inch or 1.5" on top which makes 3 1/2" of cover on these branches.
This isolated tree was angled over strongly under the weight
The snow/ice scenes here were absolutely beautiful, untouched pure Winter scenes and it felt great knowing I was the first person in this area admiring the view. Snow rime & snow again on the overhanging trees and fence post.
Check out the video clip on the next page to see footage of every image on this page which I hope will help make it feel like you where there experiencing it for yourself. More images of our next adventure can be seen on page two of this report.