Airports offer only escape as winter's grip tightens

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The Independent Online
Fresh snowfalls sweeping in from the Atlantic are set to bring a bitter chill to large swathes of Britain today.

But while motoring organisations were warning drivers to think twice about their travel plans, airports were preparing for an exodus by thousands of travellers escaping the cold.

After one of the coldest Christmases on record, the London Weather Centre said little of Britain was likely to escape snow or sleet today.

Rain falling on the tip of Cornwall turned to snow yesterday afternoon as the cold front moved northwards through the South- west, South-east and Wales.

Bitter south-easterly winds were set to make it a raw holiday Saturday with the wind-chill factor leaving the country feeling 10 degrees colder than real temperatures.

However, a London Weather Centre spokeswoman said a warmer southerly wind would bring milder conditions to the majority of England by tomorrow although there would be fresh snow falls in Scotland.

By New Year's Day temperatures, which have hovered at zero over the holiday period, are set to rise to 10C in the far west of England, 5-7C for mid- England and 3C in the North.

Scotland will remain cold. Glasgow airport was the coldest place in Britain at minus 18.7C yesterday, only marginally warmer than its worst ever night earlier this week. The Shetland Isles, where a mild thaw began yesterday, could suffer fresh blizzards.

The AA motoring organisation said it was working flat-out to tackle problems, mainly flat batteries and frozen engines. Thursday was its second busiest day on record, and it has dealt with 66,000 calls in the past three days compared with a typical 13,000 a day. Most main routes were clear, although black ice was a risk.

Travel by rail has been largely unaffected by the weather apart from Scotland where ScotRail has suffered serious disruption and 160 "snow men" have been out checking points.

Airports expect a record New Year, with few problems. More than 425,000 passengers are set to fly from Heathrow between New Year's Eve and 2 January, joining a seasonal exodus 4 per cent higher than last year. Around 1.75 million have flown since 21 December.

More than 700,000 passengers have passed through Gatwick over the holiday.

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