Topsy-turvy weather turns winter upside down

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The Independent Online
The early spring which has seen Britain basking in sunny weather is set to end today, while unpredictable temperatures continue to cause chaos elsewhere in the world. Louise Jury and Anna Lowman report.

Westerly winds will today sweep more typical January weather into Britain and end the warm spell which has sent flora and fauna into confusion.

A London Weather Centre spokesman said that temperatures will sink to a more typical 7C or 8C after hitting a near-record 17.3C at Prestatyn, north Wales, over the weekend. The record for January in the United Kingdom was 18.3C recorded at Aber, north Wales, in 1971, while the coldest was -27.2C at Braemar in 1982.

The early spring has caused early sproutings in the garden and prompted reported sightings of hedgehogs coming out of hibernation. But with the increasingly varied weather patterns of recent years, wildlife and gardening experts said the onset of a cold snap would not necessarily cause problems.

An RSPB spokesman said they were keeping their eyes on birds nesting early, but said: "I don't think it is anything to be too concerned about at this stage."

However, there might be problems with fruit trees if they bud or flower very early and then suffer a hard frost which destroys the flower. Peter Brice, who grows soft fruit near Rochester, Kent, said they had a difficult time last year with late frosts in April and May. "I am slightly nervous that it's very warm and everything is moving, but it is a little too early to be concerned," he said.

The warm spell is shared by China, which is experiencing its 12th consecutive warmer than average winter. The sunny spell is compounding problems caused by its worst drought in 30 years.

Yet, in north America, fierce storms have caused chaos, leaving at least five people dead. In Montreal, Canada, police invoked emergency powers as the city effectively remained shut for a fourth day. Hundreds of thousands of people in New England and New York were left without heat and lights by the storms. Angus King, the governor of Maine, said: "It is impossible to exaggerate the devastation."

Jerusalem woke yesterday to its first big snow for six years. The streets were blocked with up to eight inches in many places, transforming the holy city into a wintry picture-postcard. Cold weather continued in Bangladesh, where more than 200 people have died from near freezing temperatures in fog in the north and west of the country.