Early one Tuesday morning, thousands of students nationwide awoke to discover that the country had been buried under a blanket of snow overnight. The extreme weather in the final week of February meant that hundreds of schools were forced to close - for many, this was the first time in years that this had happened.

The ‘Beast from the East’, though despised for the inevitable inconvenience that it caused, was welcomed by many: it provided several days off for students and teachers alike. This was a novelty - in East Sussex, for example, some schools had four consecutive snow days, which was unheard of for most current pupils. Heathfield Community College was one of these schools; the closure lasted for the rest of the week, which made for a break almost as long as a half term.

The decision to close was not taken lightly, especially since schools are frequently criticised for their reactions to adverse weather. Caroline Barlow, the headteacher of Heathfield Community College, commented that the school did “everything they could” to open - but a combination of factors, including travel and the difficulty to “make the college grounds safe” rendered this impossible. Heathfield was one of 62 schools closed in East Sussex alone.

School closures were one of many impacts of the storm. Catastrophic disruption of transport was another result: many trains were cancelled or delayed across the country, and roads provided treacherous driving conditions. Even flights were disrupted, with British Airways cancelling dozens of its scheduled flights from Heathrow.

Some have questioned whether climate change is to blame for this extreme weather. The severe cold experienced over the week coincided with a period of unusually warm Arctic conditions - both of which were caused by an air circulation pattern known as the ‘polar vortex’. Located in the stratosphere (the second layer of the Earth’s atmosphere), it has temporarily split into two, causing warm air to flood the Arctic and cold air to rush into Europe. However, the link between climate change and the polar vortex is a complicated and debated one. No sure conclusions can be drawn - although questions certainly can, and are, raised.

School closures are an unusual event, not least several days in a row - but was this just a hint of what is to come? Could it be merely the beginning of a trend in extreme weather - are we finally seeing the impacts of our reckless behaviour on the environment? Only time will tell.

Louisa Dollimore, Heathfield Sixth Form