Last March, families were enjoying ice cream in the sun and a hosepipe ban was about to come into force as temperatures in Oxfordshire soared.

But now sunshine is a distant memory and this March is on course to be Oxford’s coldest for more than 50 years, according to Oxford University figures.

The mean temperature for March so far, recorded by staff at the Radcliffe Meteorological Station in Green Templeton College, is 3.5C, which is 2.3C colder than the average 5.8C and the coldest since 1962.

By contrast, the average for March 2012 was 8.38C, in the top 10 warmest since records began in 1767. The highest temperature recorded in March 2012 was 21.3C on March 28 in Oxford.

Postgraduate student Ian Ashpole, 26, who is studying dust storms in the Sahara Desert, takes the measurements for the Radcliffe Meteorological Station.

The meteorological observer said: “It has been incredibly cold.”

The Met Office is expecting this month to be the coldest March in the UK for 40 years.

In March 2012, it recorded an average temperature of 8.1C for Oxfordshire, with the average maximum temperature reaching 13.3C and the lowest average temperature 2.8C.

But this year, temperatures from the Met Office observation site in Benson show that between March 18-25, the highest temperature was 8.9C and the lowest -4.2C.

Met Office forecaster Helen Roberts said: “It will remain very cold throughout the rest of the week, so no real let-up in the cold weather for the foreseeable future.

Snow is unlikely, but there could be the odd snow flurry.”

The Radcliffe Meteorological Station has recorded 77.4mm of rainfall so far this March – resulting in higher river levels and flood alerts being issued by the Environment Agency.

Only 24.3mm was recorded in March 2012 – about 70 per cent less than this year.

The weather is affecting businesses and tourist attractions.

Ninety-three-year-old punting business Magdalen Bridge Boathouse is unable to operate this Easter weekend because of high river levels.

Owner Andrew Howard said: “I don’t mind the cold weather, but the river is still in flood so we cannot go anywhere.

“Easter is usually the kick-off for the season.”

Many entrants in this year’s OX5 Run, organised by the Oxford Mail in aid of the Oxford Children’s Hospital, had to wrap up to beat the cold, whereas runners in 2012 enjoyed warm sunshine.

High river levels and strong currents also resulted in the cancellation of the World Pooh Sticks Championships at Day’s Lock on the Thames at Little Wittenham, near Didcot, last Sunday.

Nick Ryan, a Navy petty officer at RAF Benson, went to the contest in the sunshine last year with daughter Abigail, now two.

He said: “It was a shame because last year it was beautiful.

“It is completely different to this time last year.”

Last night, three flood alerts remained in place on the River Thames and its tributaries in the Oxford area, the River Thame including Thame and the Chalgrove Brook at Chalgrove, and Stadhampton and the River Ray and its tributaries down to Islip.

The alerts mean flooding is possible.