Heavy Snowfall Causes Transport Chaos, With Trains Delayed, Cars Abandoned On Roads And Flights Cancelled Across Britain

Travel disruption as snow blankets the UK (Guardian, Feb. 5, 2012):

Heavy snowfall causes transport chaos, with trains delayed, cars abandoned on roads and flights cancelled across Britain

A thick blanket of snow, 16cm deep in places, has settled across parts of the UK, grounding planes, stranding motorists and leaving roads icy and treacherous.

Although the worst of the flurries will move eastwards, swaths of the UK have been placed on amber alert, with the Met Office warning of icy conditions across much of England, Scotland and Wales.

Church Fenton in North Yorkshire and Wattisham in Suffolk recorded 16cm of snow, while up to 15cm was forecast for parts of Cumbria, Lincolnshire, East Anglia, North Yorkshire, the Peak District and the Midlands.

Many motorway drivers were forced to spend the night in their cars as the snow brought traffic to a standstill. The Highways Agency has urged motorists to take extra care on the roads.

A third of today’s flights have been axed at Heathrow because of the snow and the possibility of freezing fog. A spokesman for the airport said: “We have about 850 of our usual 1,231 flights scheduled for today. That’s been agreed with the airlines, but we are asking people to check with their airlines before travelling to the airport.”

A full schedule of flights is planned for Gatwick, but passengers have been warned of possible disruptions because of the weather.

Stansted, Birmingham, Luton and Manchester airports were forced to suspend operations for a period last night as snow piled up on the runways, but normal service was expected to resume on Sunday.

Six flights were cancelled in Birmingham, where some passengers were forced to spend the night in a terminal. A spokesman said the airport would catch up on Sunday, providing temperatures did not drop much lower.

In Luton, flights were “fully operational” with some delays due to snow clearing.

A couple of departures were cancelled at Stansted, but a spokesman said there was “movement” on and off the runway, adding: “Flights are subject to delays of up to about one hour”.

A Gatwick spokesman said all scheduled flights had taken off and arrived safely, despite 8cm of snow. There were no cancellations.

On the roads, motorists faced what the RAC described as a “dangerous cocktail of driving conditions” and were urged to stay at home where possible. Some minor routes closed altogether.

Drivers on sections of the M25 in Hertfordshire were trapped in gridlock throughout the night. One motorist, Tom Jones, was stranded in his car for more than seven hours, telling the BBC: “We joined the back of a tailback, never realising we would be spending the night on the motorway.” He said the Highways Agency had to deal with much bad driving, and said he saw several cars stuck in ditches and many blocking the hard shoulder.

Thames Valley police said the snow had caused a tailback between junctions nine and four southbound on the M40 from about 9pm until the early hours of .

Police in Kent warned people not to travel unless “absolutely essential”, and urged people not to cause an obstruction if forced to abandon their vehicles.

A spokesman said the A20 and Jubilee Way were closed and advised people using the Port of Dover to check with their ferry operator before travelling.

A North Yorkshire police spokesman said there had been some 60 minor road collisions across the county since Saturday afternoon as a result of the weather.

The area’s fire and rescue service said a crew returning to their base at Robin Hood’s Bay had helped several motorists who became stuck in “severe” snow drifts.

The Highways Agency has issued an amber alert, advising people to take extra care while travelling because of “the increased risk of adverse driving conditions”.

Kevin Andrews, RAC patrol ambassador, said the wintry weather and sub-zero temperatures had left roads “extremely treacherous”. The motoring organisation said it had attended 70% more breakdowns than normal, while a spokesman for the AA said it dealt with about 1,500 callouts per hour on Saturday.

The total figure was predicted to reach 15,000 by the end of Saturday, almost double the usual number of 8,500.

Rail services have also been affected, with disruption set to continue throughout Sunday.

Southern Railway said trains were subject to delay and cancellation, with journey times extended by up to 30 minutes.

In the capital, all bus routes were operating morning after a few “curtailments” to the night bus services, Transport for London said.

Tube services were said to have started well but delays and suspensions soon set in on most lines.

The Met Office’s amber alert, which urges people to be prepared, applies to central, south-west and eastern Scotland, to Wales, and to vast areas of England. A yellow alert, which warns people to “be aware”, was in place for the Highlands and Northern Ireland.

The icy spell has seen daytime temperatures plummet four or five degrees lower than average for February – traditionally the coldest month of the year.

The Department for Transport has said it was better prepared than ever for severe winter weather. Salt stocks across Britain stand at more than 2.4m tonnes – a million more than last year.

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