UK faces travel chaos as temperatures plummet across Europe

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The Independent Online

Drivers were urged to delay their journeys to work this morning as sub-zero temperatures and the threat of black ice and snow were predicted to cause travel chaos.

Drivers were urged to delay their journeys to work this morning as sub-zero temperatures and the threat of black ice and snow were predicted to cause travel chaos.

Weather experts said temperatures could plunge as low as minus 10C across central and southern England, with the worst conditions due to coincide with the rush hour.

Treacherous road conditions caused severe travel disruption yesterday in Kent and the South-east for the second day running. Police were investigating a road accident on an icy London-bound carriageway of the M2, which left one driver dead and one critically injured.

Ian Cameron, from the Meteorological Office, said conditions would improve steadily through the day as the snow turned back to rain, but that disruption to travel would be a concern in the morning. Black ice could be a particular problem on untreated roads and pavements. "We are looking at the worst conditions lasting for around two to three hours as the band of wintry weather spreads south through the day," he said. A band of rain from the North is expected to meet warmer air in the South, leading to icy roads in south-east England. The freezing temperatures were due to lift by Sunday.

The Highways Agency mobilised vehicles to grit motorways. It advised drivers to carry a winter weather kit, including warm clothes, a hot drink, de-icers, a torch and a spade.

A spokesman said yesterday: "All road users are asked to check the weather forecast and road conditions before they set out, and if the weather is bad, drivers are advised to delay their journey if possible until conditions improve. In severe weather, delaying a journey by a few hours could make the difference between a completed trip and a difficult drive in poor conditions."

Kent has had its worst winter weather in 10 years in recent weeks, with Gurkha soldiers on standby to assist emergency services. A Kent Police spokeswoman said most of the main roads were still open but advised motorists to drive with utmost care. She added: "Operation Stack has also been put in place on the M20 sections by the Channel tunnel to cope with the build-up of lorries. Our advice to motorists is not to make journeys unless it is absolutely necessary ... The driving conditions are very difficult."

About 200 homes have had their electricity cut off and 464 schools across the county have been closed. A spokeswoman for Kent County Council said 282 of its 617 secondary and primary schools were closed. Medway Council, which operates 109 primary and secondary schools, said 57 of those were closed.

Air travel around Europe was also badly affected. In Italy, dozens of flights were cancelled because it was too dangerous to take off or land. One light aircraft took off from Bologna but crashed seconds later, killing four people. Airports in Paris and Amsterdam, where cancellations have stranded thousands, struggled with icy runways and heavy delays.

And weather experts in Spain said the country has experienced its lowest temperatures in decades this month. The government has been warning people about driving in dangerous conditions.

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