Madrid’s January cold snap 2021 versus 1940

Dr. Arnd Bernaerts
5 min readJan 11, 2021


On Saturday, the 9th January 2021, a 30 uninterrupted hour’s snowfall ended in Madrid. A subsequent cold was expected. Today, on Monday, the lowest point may be reached at minus 7°C. That was unexpected and news reports was claimed it was the worst snowfall seen in half a century, and with Siberian temperatures forecast from Monday onward.

At this point it seems reasonable to recall January 1940, which was very exceptional for entire Europe, but also for the Iberian Peninsula. The following list indicates a picture of a serious weather deviation from average. Subsequently a brief reflection is made considering the causation.

30 December 1939; In all parts of Switzerland the lowest temperatures varying between minus 5°C (Locarno and Lugano) and minus 31°C (La Brevine) had been recorded in the most beautiful weather. In the Dolomites the temperature was minus 21°C yesterday. (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 2 January 1940, NZZ). Cold air blew from the East. (NZZ 14 January 1940).

30 December 1939; “Rome’s heaviest snowfall in recorded history -six inches-“. (NYT, 31 December 1939).

30 December 1939; “Naples region today reeled under an unprecedented severe snow storm which indirectly caused a train accident …”. (NYT, 31 December 1939).

30 December 1939; Cold wave over the Riviera. In Genoa a rapid fall in temperature was followed by an extensive snowstorm. Trieste reports heavy winter storms. Milano had minus 10° Celsius during Saturday night. (NZZ, 31 December 1939).

30 December 1939; Rome covered by 25–30 cm snow; Venice minus 5°C; severe cold in Yugoslavia with minus 23°C (Frankfurter Zeitung, 31 December 1939); cold wave in Bulgaria, the lowest at Rustschuk at the Danube river with minus 20°C. Banja Luka/Westbosnia minus 27°C; in Slovenian cities minus 26°C; Belgrade minus 18°C (NZZ, 2 January 1940). The Danube River carries ice; and along the shores ice is building up; also in some bights at the Adriatic Sea icing has started. (ditto).

30 December 1939: “The cold wave that followed the snow has spread all over Italy. Ice floated down the Grand Canal in Venice and entered the lagoon, and Venetians feared that, if it kept up tonight, the whole lagoon would be frozen by tomorrow morning. “ (NYT, 31 December 1939).

1 January 1940; Rome has not seen so much snow since 1846, although at that time snowfall lasted three days with a total of 22 cm; this time the snow lasted only eight hours at a temperature of minus four degrees Celsius. (NZZ, 2 January 1940)

1 January 1940; The Atlantic island Madeira reports heavy thunderstorm with heavy flooding. (NZZ, 2 January 1940).

4 January 1940; Heavy rains during several days in Southern Spain caused severe flooding. Water in Guadalquivir River has risen by 15 metres. (NZZ, 5 January 1940).

6 January 1940; Heavy flooding in Tajo river in Portugal. (NZZ, 8 January 1940).

11 January 1940; In Northeast and Central Italy heavy storms with a wind speed up to 120 km from the West was reported, (NZZ, 11 January 1940).

13 January 1940; Rome. Reports of death, injury and extensive damage to property came from all over Italy today as a result of one of the worst storms in years, which in Rome disrupted telephone service. Thirteen persons were known to have been killed and three ships wrecked. (NYT, 14 January 1940).

13 January 1940; Temperatures fell in Portugal; Sierre de Estella reports 9°C below zero temperatures; and very unusual snowfall at Coimbra. (NZZ, 14 January 1940).

14 January 1940; Snowstorms continued all over Spain preventing ships from leaving ports. The speed train from Valencia to Tarragona stranded in snow. (NZZ, 14 January 1940).

15 January 1940; Heavy snowstorms all over Spain continue. (NZZ, 15 January 1940).

18 January 1940; In the Navarro region a violent snowstorm rages; the road from Irun to Madrid is covered with 70 cm snow (NZZ, 18 January 1940).

21 January 1940; In Paris (Porte de Lilas) minus 20 degrees Celsius; it is the severest winter since 1917 with 22 degrees below zero. (NZZ, 22 January 1940).

23 January 1940; At Madrid it has been snowing continuously for the last few days. Snow cover was higher than in the winter of 1906. Never before has so much snow been recorded. At Bilbao the traffic was interrupted and work at the seaport stopped. (NZZ, 25 January 1940).

25 January 1940; All over a number of Spanish provinces cold has doubled. In Madrid the temperature fell to -18°C; at Valladolid to -13°C. (NZZ, 26 January 1940).

For a broader picture of the extraordinary weather conditions in Europe January 1940 a reading of the previous post an MEDIUM is recommended: “Europe in Ice-Age — January 1940 — Why?”

The point raised is about the Second World War, which commended on 1st September 1939. Four months later Europe’s weather was in turmoil. Particularly naval warfare in the seas around Great Britain and the North-and Baltic Sea certainly played a major role, creating abnormal winter weather conditions in south-western Europe as well. The most likely reason is that the war at sea in the North and Baltic Sea blocked the West Wind Drift, which resulted in Atlantic cyclones being barred from travelling eastwards via Central Europe. The ‘blocked’ cyclones therefore had only two options, either to go north, or to move south. The above presented list of events indicates the exceptionality.