THE summer solstice is only 28 days away, but in parts of Scotland yesterday, it was like winter had never left, as people awoke to a blanket of snow.
At a time of year when thoughts should be turning to sunscreen and barbeques, a blast of wintry weather swept in from the Arctic, bringing blizzards and icy temperatures to the North-east. Drifting snow closed two roads, and many more were only passable with care.
The snow gates on the A939 Cockbridge to Tomintoul road and the A93 between Braemar and Glenshee had to be closed to traffic at first light.
The A939, a busy route for tourists between Royal Deeside, Strathdon and Speyside, remained closed for most of the day, as fresh snow showers, driven in on strong northerly winds, swept across the area, reducing temperatures to as low as –3C.
A message, posted on Twitter by the Moray division of Police Scotland, summed up the general feeling of incredulity. It read: “The A939 Lecht Ski Centre-Tomintoul road (Snow Gate 18) is badly affected by SNOW. No, we can’t quite believe we’re tweeting this either.”
Later, Traffic Scotland tweeted: “Lecht remains closed due to snow … yes this is a current tweet for 23 May!”
Stewart Davidson, a director at the Glenshee ski centre, said: “There were a few inches of snow overnight. The snow gates were closed for about half an hour. Three cars had got stuck in the snow and the police came up and got them out of the way before the road was reopened.
“But its still pretty wild here, with heavy snow showers and drifting snow.”
The Glenshee ski centre closed for the season on 21 April, but Mr Davidson stressed: “It isn’t unusual to have snow this late in the year. We have seen snow in June before, so this is not out of the ordinary. But the nights will start to draw in again on 21 or 22 June. It’s ridiculous. The summers are getting shorter and shorter every year.”
The strong winds disrupted ferry services to the Western Isles and led to warnings on the Skye, Dornoch and Friarton bridges and a 40mph speed limit on the Forth Road Bridge.
As the snow continued to fall on Scotland’s highest peaks, Bob Kinnaird, principal of the Scottish National Outdoor Training Centre at Glenmore Lodge, warned climbers and hillwalkers to prepare for “full winter conditions”. He said: “We can get bad weather on the hills all year, but this is particularly severe and would catch people out at this time of the year if they expect to be in spring sunshine.”
Mr Kinnaird also warned of the possibility of avalanche. He said: “If the snow comes in with the wind and it creates wind slab – and it’s wind slab that’s the main form of avalanche in Scotland – then mountaineers do need to be careful about where they go if that slab is built up on the lee side of the hill.
“Certainly, the high plateau area of the Cairngorms is in full winter conditions and people need to prepare for that.”
Meanwhile, the Met Office issued a special bulletin, showing that spring 2013 is on course to be the coldest in the UK for more than 30 years.
A spokeswoman said: “The estimates suggest the mean UK temperature for spring will be around 6.1C, which would make it the sixth coldest spring in national records dating back to 1910 and the coldest since 1979. In Scotland, the mean temperature is 4.7C – 1.6C less than average.
“This year’s particularly cold spring was heavily influenced by an exceptionally cold March, which had a mean temperature 3.3C below the long-term average. April and May – so far – have been less cold, but have also registered slightly below-average mean temperatures.”