Was Snowdon ever covered all year round?

Early writers spoke of Snowdon being covered in snow the entire year around. Camden, writing in the 17th Century, was one of these, however he has thought that it was hard snow that remained upon the mountain during cooler summer months. Ultimately it has been asserted that it is not possible Snowdon could have been covered in snow the full year round.

This may not be correct – especially in the light of recent research. Modern scientists have found definite records of extreme weather conditions around the world during the little ice age which is said to have been from about 1300 to 1850. The 12th century ties in with the earliest descriptions of the ‘snow mountain.’ During the middle ages records were practically nil and the vagaries of the weather was rarely recorded. However there is a very high likelhood that in Giraldus’ time the weather must have been somewhat colder than normal and there may have been times when the weather was cold enough to keep snow upon the mountains for a considerable length of time during the summer. The Cairngorms are known to have been covered in snow all year round during some of the harshest periods of the Maunder minimum, and recently researchers discovered a minor Scottish lake that was always frozen over even during the ‘warmer’ summers of the little ice age.

The worst years were between 1645 and 1715 and known as the “Maunder minimum.” This was a long period over which sun-spot activity was practically nil. During this time could have been one of those very rare years when Snowdon would have been covered through most, if not all of, the year. Possibilities include 1601 which has been recorded as having frosts every morning during June. 1628 is another year, as that saw the mountains of Switzerland regularly covered in snow between May and August. Some of these years in the British Isles had no summer at all especially those between 1690 and 1698. During April 1696 it wa so cold that the artic ice extended south and surrounded Ireland completely. 1698 was said to have been one of the coldest years ever recorded.

New Scientist (25 September 2010 p20) reported on the efects of deforestation and the levels of snow seen on Mount Kilimanjaro. Scientists found that the more deforestation occured the less snow there was. By this it transpires that when Snowdon had more forests around it, this actually protected the snow (prevention of warm currents rising up from the valleys.) This is another means by which snow could have on occasions lingered upon the summit through an entire year. It does appear plausible Snowdon had snow remaining on its summit all of the summer in some years until the 16th century.

Evidence shows the Gulf of Mexico suffered a drop of two to three degrees during the Maunder minimum so temperatures in Britain were pretty harsh. Things have changed now, with the threat of global warming, and despite that spectre, in the 21st millenium snow can linger on the mountain for the larger part of the year from as early as September until April or even possibly May.

© August 2010 Gwychder y Wyddfa/Snowdon Splendour/Snowdon Wales

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