If you’ve ever thought about traveling to Ireland, then you’ve probably had to consider what kind of weather you will have to prepare for.
You know it probably gets cold in Ireland, but would it really be cold enough to snow? And if so, how much?
The answer to these questions will vary depending on when you’re there and which part of the country you’re in.
So does it snow it Ireland? The country rarely sees any snow at all. Snow days average at only 10-15 days out of the year and generally only reaches depths of 1-2cms; with higher chances for snow the further north and inland you go. However, Irish mountains can see extensive snow for weeks at a time during their winter seasons.
The climate of Ireland can be very complex and has many factors that contribute to when and if it will snow in particular areas. To determine the level of snowfall in any of Ireland’s regions, the specific causes and deterrents of snowfall need to be looked at.
Conditions for Snowfall
While snowfall is not generally part of the Irish environment, Ireland has very particular conditions that allow for some pretty interesting variations in climate.
Ireland is a landmass that is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and is in contact with the Gulf Stream. Two strong sources of warmth. Those geographical features create conditions for plentiful rain and maintain Irish temperatures at just above freezing point, with an average low of 5 degrees Celsius(41 degrees Fahrenheit).
Ireland owes a lack of extremes in its climate to those warm ocean currents flowing from the Gulf of Mexico through the Atlantic to the coasts of Ireland year round. The water that the Gulf Stream carries is warmed by the heat of the Florida coast and when it reaches northern Europe, it is still warmer than the average temperature of the oceans in that region.
This warmer-than-average water keeps Ireland from dropping below freezing; other than a few off days that are colder than average.
Keep in mind that it’s the average temperature of Ireland that remains right above freezing point. Due to what’s known as “continentality”, which states that areas further inland will experience a higher disparity between seasonal temperatures than those on the coast—temperatures of counties such as Mullingar and Tullamore have been known to dip into freezing temperatures and produce snow.
This also allows the Irish mountain ranges like the MacGillyscuddy Reeks Mountains to sustain snow for weeks at a time.
What was Ireland’s Biggest SnowFall?
While rare, Ireland has had its fair share of intense snowfalls. In December of 1962, Ireland experienced the coldest temperatures seen since the 19th century. Reaching a record low of -11.6 degrees Celsius(11.12 degrees Fahrenheit).
This cold snap lasted from December 1962 to March of 1963. In that time, Ireland experienced a maximum of 45 cm of snow without even taking snow drift into consideration, the river Shannon froze over, and the casualties exceeded 500.
This abnormality in weather is attributed to a large anticyclone that developed over Scandinavia. This anticyclone blew cold eastern winds to northwestern Europe; essentially nullifying some of the effects of the warm Atlantic streams, and allowing Ireland’s temperatures to plunge into dangerous levels.
The winter of 1962 in Ireland was definitely the coldest with the deepest areas of snow in the last century, but there was another winter in Ireland that, while not as cold, was equally devastating.
This particular winter happened in 1947 and would later be known as the ‘Big Snow’. The ‘Big Snow’ lasted from mid-January through March and brought with it the longest lasting continuous snowfall that has ever been recorded; with continuous snowfall for 30 days in some places. The snow drifts regularly stood at 4.5 meters tall.
The casualties were said to have been over 600. The reason the ‘Big Snow’ was so disastrous is due to it occurring during a period of wartime rationing caused by a particularly poor harvest the previous fall season.
Where Does it Snow?
Now don’t let the scarcity of snow discourage your potential visit to Ireland. There do happen to be a few places you can go to that exhibit higher chances of snow yearly. As I mentioned earlier, many of the mountain ranges in Ireland tend to be covered in snow during the winter.
Some of the more popular spots to see beautiful white mountain tops are in the Mourne Mountains and the MacGillycuddy Reeks Mountains. A great view of the blanketed Mourne Mountains can be seen from one of its smaller summits, Slieveanglogh.
The MacGillycuddy Reeks Mountains in the county of Kerry offers equally stunning sights from essentially anywhere in the mountain range.
If you would rather forego a trip to the mountains to see snow, you could still have a chance of seeing it on the ground—if you’re lucky.
To increase the chance of it snowing where you are in Ireland, you want to be as north and Inland as possible during Ireland’s coldest winter months; January and February. The counties of Mullingar and Donegal are well known for having snow that lasts on the ground.
When Does it Snow?
Snow is most commonly seen during the months of January and February as these are the coldest months in Ireland’s winter. However, snowfall in other months isn’t entirely unheard of. In the past, Ireland has seen snow as early as May, but during these rare occurrences, the snow would usually melt upon contact with the ground.
That timeframe of when it could snow is only accurate during normal seasonal conditions. All of the severe snowstorms that were mentioned earlier in the article came about from abnormal atmospheric conditions, such as the anticyclone that caused Ireland’s coldest winter in 1962/63.
Conditions that may cause more intense cold snaps will all have one thing in common, specifically, they will counter the warmth that is created by the Atlantic’s warm ocean currents. Common factors that will create these conditions include cold air coming from the east, usually around Russia, and warming in the stratosphere.
Normal Winters in Ireland
When it’s not snowing in Ireland, which is most of the season, an Irish winter mainly consists of temperatures ranging from 5 degrees Celsius(41 degrees Fahrenheit) to 15 degrees Celsius(59 degrees Fahrenheit); as well an abundance of rain and cloudy skies.
Because of how close the temperatures get to freezing during the winter, along with the amount of rain that it experiences, it is difficult to predict an accurate forecast. The smallest drop in temperature can make the difference between rain, sleet, and actual snowfall.
Ireland is also naturally very windy and maintains tempest-like conditions throughout the winter. The low temperatures combined with the wind create strong wind chills all throughout the country and is even more prominent in the north where it is both colder and windier.
Things to do in Ireland during the Winter
View the Aurora Borealis
When you think of the Aurora Borealis, you may not think of Ireland, but due to the low levels of light pollution—you can actually see the Northern Lights off of Ireland’s northern coast on a clear night.
Visit the Newgrange Passage Tomb
In the county of Meath, there is an ancient tomb that can be accessed through a tunnel at the entrance of the structure. On the winter solstice, the sun will be perfectly aligned with the stone rows during sunset creating a beautiful scene.
The snow-covered mountains in Ireland make for an amazing sight and were even the inspiration for C.S Lewis’s “Narnia”. There are ample distinct locations throughout the Mourne and MacGillyscuddy Reeks mountain ranges for hiking and exploration.
What to wear in Ireland?
Ireland experiences frequent rain and wind throughout all of its seasons. The weather is also very mild, even in the winter. Never exhibiting either extreme in temperature. Wearing warm clothing that is wind and water resistant will prepare you for everything Ireland might throw at you.
Driving in Ireland in the Winter
Driving in Ireland can be dangerous at any point in the year due to the frequency of rain. While in winter, the hazards of driving are intensified. Rain can freeze on the road in the nights making it very difficult to maintain traction while driving. To maximize safety, always check the threading on your tires, use cautionary speeds, and keep an emergency kit in your car.
When are the best times to visit Ireland?
The months that offer the most benefit in Ireland would be March to May and September to November for cooler weather, without it being too cold, where you can enjoy outside activities without being overwhelmed by freezing winds and rain.
The months of June to August are when Ireland’s vivid landscapes are at their most vibrant. This is the time when Ireland becomes a frequent hotspot for movies and television series such as Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and Saving Private Ryan.