After two reports of polar bears being washed up on the British coast this year, it was only a matter of time before the icebergs arrived.
"Amazed locals" had seen icebergs off the north-west coast of England, at Morecambe Bay in the Irish Sea, according to news reports yesterday.
Many people assume that the UK is too far south to have icebergs, but the fatal collision between the giant passenger liner Titanic and the iceberg which did for her in April 1912 was actually a long way to the south of the British Isles, at latitude 41°46N. The most southerly part of Britain, the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, lies at 49°55N.
Predictably, however, further investigation revealed yesterday's "icebergs" to be more in the nature of ice floes – the biggest being about 20ft long and three feet thick. They were frozen parts of the sea nonetheless, in an area where temperatures had, on occasions during the recent freeze, climbed no higher than minus 8C.
It is the waters of the Gulf Stream which warm our seas and make them iceberg-free (although five years ago, in the middle of a drought, the water company Thames Water briefly considered towing icebergs here as a water supply).
Reports of polar bears travelling to Britain made the news earlier this year. The RSPB suggested that one had been washed up still alive on the Hebridean island of Mull – the story was an April Fool. The second report came in September when Naomi Lloyd, a presenter of ITV's West Country breakfast bulletin, excitedly informed viewers that a polar bear had been washed up dead at the Cornish seaside town of Bude. The animal turned out to be a cow, which had been bleached white by the seawater.
Icebergs are hardly more likely than polar bears to arrive here.
The sea ice is not likely to be around for much longer now as the thaw has definitely set in, brought by milder air from the west. Most of southern Britain will see its snow melting away today – bad news for tobogganers – helped by rain in some places as the temperature steadily rises, although there may still be some sleet or snow in the north-east and Scotland.
Parts of south-west England and south Wales are expected to see temperatures reach 11C by Thursday, with only a few inland places in the north of England remaining sub-zero. Many areas will be dull, misty and drizzly.
The Met Office is nevertheless predicting that this month will be "by some margin" the coldest December since records began 100 years ago.
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