Another two weeks of the big freeze still to come

Temperatures dropped as low as -18C in Scotland and 40cm of snow fell in parts of southern England – no wonder almost half the working population chose to stay home
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The Independent Online

Freezing conditions will continue for another two weeks with another major snowfall expected to blanket parts of Britain on Sunday and Monday when up to 20cm is forecast. Yesterday more than 1,500 schools were closed and thousands of hospital operations cancelled as nearly half the workforce stayed at home. Train services were badly hit while fears rose that councils were running out of grit to keep roads open.

While Berkshire, Surrey and Hampshire were severely hit with some areas receiving the anticipated 40cm in places, London and Wiltshire got away with little more than a light dusting overnight though it was snowing in the capital during the evening rush hour.

On the A3 near Waterlooville, Hampshire, the Army was called in to help police after 1,000 motorists in a 10-mile jam were forced to spend the night in their cars. In Scotland, temperatures plunged to -18C overnight and people were told only to travel in an emergency. There were further heavy falls in the North-east and Yorkshire.

A Met Office spokesman said: "There will be more snow showers over the next few days but there will be a major snowfall on Sunday or Monday of between 10 and 20cm. There is little to suggest much change for 10 to 14 days."

Mountain rescue teams were called in to search for Matthew Duffield, 36, who went missing from Burnley General Hospital overnight in sub-zero temperatures, while an elderly man was killed when his car skidded on ice in Titchfield, Hampshire. Six-year-old Thomas Hudson remained in a critical condition after plunging through ice into a pond in Crookham Common, near Thatcham, Berkshire, on Tuesday. In Nottinghamshire, an eight-year-old boy was airlifted to hospital for a kidney transplant after getting stuck.

Up to 5,000 homes in Sussex were without electricity after heavy snow brought down power lines. More sub-zero temperatures overnight will make conditions even more treacherous.

Travel

The satnav company Tom Tom recorded 2,356 miles of traffic jams during the morning rush hour, including a 50-mile tailback on the A1 near Darlington. A section of the A66 in Cumbria was shut all day as were parts of the A30 and M5 in Devon, the A3 in Surrey and Hampshire, and the M1 in South Yorkshire. A gritting lorry overturned in Ceredigion, Mid Wales. More than 240 flights were cancelled at Gatwick while Stansted, Cardiff, Bristol, Southampton and Exeter airports all shut for a time. There were also delays and cancellations at Manchester, Aberdeen and Leeds Bradford, and easyJet axed more than 250 services; 5 per cent of train services were cancelled.

Work

The weather cost businesses £690m yesterday as an estimated 44 per cent of workers stayed at home. Britain's economic output could be hit by £14.5bn in the next three weeks. Insurers RSA said many firms had closed due to a lack of trade and staff. The TUC and employer groups urged firms to let staff work from home.

Grit

Gordon Brown insisted there was sufficient salt and grit for Britain's roads despite claims by councils of diminishing stocks that left them with a few days of reserves. Mr Brown said areas needing salt would "not be denied it", though Scarborough Council said it was using sand from the resort's beach to grit pavements.

Schools

More than 1,500 schools were closed yesterday. All schools were closed in parts of Scotland. More closures are anticipated today and tomorrow.

Operations

Hospitals were badly hit. In Oxford operations deemed "non-urgent" were postponed. The Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust said it would only operate on "priority cases". Outpatient appointments at the Princess Royal Hospital, Haywards Heath, West Sussex were shelved.

Sport

The Premier League match between Arsenal and Bolton was postponed, as were the Carling Cup semi-finals. An all-weather race meeting at Lingfield was abandoned and the 2012 Paralympics training camp was hit when more than 40 competitors were stranded at the University of Bath site and another 40 advised not to travel.

The Met Office: Skating on thin ice

After famously predicting a barbecue summer last year the Met Office said we could look forward to a milder than average winter. Yet even before the current cold snap average temperatures for England and Wales in December were 1.8C below the average. January has seen the mercury plunge another 4C below the mean average."Long range forecasting is still experimental," said a Met Office spokesman. "There are so many other factors not just around the UK but globally such as El Niño or the North Atlantic Oscillation which can play havoc with predictions. It was our best guess at the time and it wasn't very good," he added.

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