Icy interlude puts paid to spring frolics

Last Friday was the hottest day of the year, with temperatures up to 26C. This morning, a dusting of snow is expected in central and southern England. Such are the vagaries of springtime in Britain.

The culprit is a cold front that moved in from the Arctic yesterday, sweeping away the warm weather in which the country had basked for several days. Strong winds and heavy rain made it one of the worst May Bank Holidays on record.

As the rain moved south, snow was forecast to fall overnight, settling on high ground in the Cotswolds, Chilterns and South Downs. The Peak District and Welsh mountains were also expected to get a couple of inches. It was predicted to melt by midday as temperatures rose.

Snowflakes were expected even in central London, although they were unlikely to settle. If the forecasters are proved right, it will be only the fourth time this century that snow has fallen on the capital in May. The previous occasions were in 1963, 1955 and 1917.

Yesterday was miserable in northern England and Wales, with heavy rain and temperatures well below seasonal norms. Manchester was only 7C in mid-afternoon, compared to a usual average of 14C. Scotland had showers and strong winds.

AA Roadwatch appealed to drivers returning home last night after the Bank Holiday weekend to exercise caution as conditions on the roads deteriorated. Rain and strong crosswinds made driving particularly hazardous in Yorkshire and Gwynedd.

One benefit of the weather was that the roads were not expected to be particularly congested, with many people having chosen to spend their day off indoors.

For those who ventured further afield, the latest action by striking French lorry drivers spelt possible disruption to cross-Channel ferry services. The drivers set up rolling "escargot" blockades, slowing traffic to a snail's pace on roads around Boulogne, Dunkirk and Amiens.

They allowed tourist traffic through in one lane, but blocked lorries and other commercial vehicles.

The AA said it was difficult to give advice to British motorists, since the blockades were often lifted after a few hours and set up again elsewhere.

The ferry companies were hopeful that the ports would not be affected. The day of action by local factions within the lorry drivers' unions coincided with a national strike by French bus drivers.

Today is expected to be cold in most parts of the country, with northerly winds, wintry showers and some hail or sleet.

In central London, rain will be mixed with the odd snowflake. Ground frosts this morning could kill off tender young plants.

However, the bad weather has not averted an impending supermarket price war over sun lotion.

The Co-op announced it was almost halving its prices on the leading brands to help reduce the incidence of skin cancer. The move follows research by the Co-op which found that three people in four still do not realise sunshine can cause skin cancer, and one in three are unaware that sun lotions can reduce that risk.

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