Now just imagine that week of weather lasting a year, or maybe a decade; or how about 100,000 years. That’s how long the last ice age lasted. In just a week the weather gave us a mini-demonstration of how something as apparently feeble as water and wind can, when it’s cold enough, chew up hard stone and throw it around like matchwood. This gives us just a small taste of what happened in the earth’s recent past.
The evidence of those 100,000 years is all around us. Those piles of gravel scoured off the roads are small versions of the huge gravel pits all across the region – best seen at Burton Riggs nature reserve off the A64. The piles of mud and silt that are blocking drains are miniature versions of the fans of debris washed out of glacial channels like Forge Valley and Newtondale.
This month we’ve been seeing geology in action as solid rock and stone is recycled into gravel, mud, silt and sand before being laid down and solidified all over again. It’s a process that goes on along the coast all the time as the sea wears away at the land, and piles up sand and pebbles on our beaches in return. Now we’ve seen the same powerful forces at work inland.
It’s all been going on for a long, long time. Geology students can all quote James Hutton, the founding father of geology, who said that the earth’s cycle of uplift and erosion had ‘no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end’. Thankfully that’s not quite true of the Yorkshire winter – even if it feels like it.
Spring is on the way and we can forget about winter until . . . next year.