21 January – 16 March 1947
Western Europe Faces Harshest Winter on Record
As the countries of Western Europe struggled to recover from the destruction of World War II, nature suddenly intervened. In January 1947 a weather front settled in over Scandinavia, bringing strong, cold easterly winds and heavy snow to much of the region. Great Britain was most affected, experiencing the coldest February in recorded history—at no point in that month did the temperature rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Snow continued to fall through much of the month, and in March it grew even worse, so that in some places drifts piled up as high as fifteen feet.

All of this happened at a time when supplies were already running short. Demand for coal for heating purposes became so great that it consumed virtually all of England’s supply—as a result it had to be diverted away from industrial and transportation purposes, so that roughly a fifth of the nation’s factories remained idle. The situation was just as bad when it came to food, which had been rationed since 1939. Rations for butter, margarine, and cooking oil dropped to a mere seven ounces per family a week. Britain’s Ministry for Food, desperate for some dietary supplement, circulated recipes for squirrel pie.

The United States was enjoying relative prosperity at this time, but the Truman administration feared that desperation brought on by the harsh winter might make communism more appealing to the people of Europe. This led the administration to begin plans for a massive American relief effort, eventually named for Secretary of State George C. Marshall.