Big freeze brings ice, snow and now potholes

Deteriorating road surfaces add to motoring misery in cold spell
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As if ice and snow were not enough, the Arctic conditions gripping the country are causing roads to break up and potholes to appear. Temperatures have been so low for so long that roads are deteriorating much faster than is normally expected, creating "especially treacherous" driving conditions.

Last night, forecasters said there was little sign of an end to the freezing weather caused by a blast of cold air that dumped thick snow across most of Scotland and Northern England. "Very cold air is coming from the Arctic," said Robin Downton, of the Met Office. "Every now and then some warmer air slips in between Iceland and Scotland and that's what's bringing the snow. I can't see any end to it at least until after next weekend."

The icy roads have been made more treacherous by potholes. Tens of millions of pounds of damage has already been caused by expansion and contraction of road surfaces as temperatures change, and the final bill could exceed £100m. "It is beginning to be a problem," said Paul Watters, head of roads policy at the AA. "Potholes are beginning to appear now because of the severe cold damaging the roads. It is widespread pretty much everywhere that has had the cold and frost.

"It's inevitable it will happen but having it early in the winter makes the problem worse. Normally it's a spring phenomenon when the rains come but this year we have had the vicious cold for so long it has seeped right into the foundations of the roads. This just adds to the massive backlog of £1bn of repairs that need doing and most authorities have a backlog of years."

Breakdown organisations expect today to be one of their busiest days of the past 12 months as many drivers use their cars for the first time since before Christmas. Flat batteries are the biggest cause of breakdown, says the RAC, but tyre damage from driving into potholes, or hitting kerbs after skidding on ice is second.

Overnight temperatures were expected to fall to -10C in North Wales, -1C in parts of North-East England, and a bitter -15C in the Scottish Highlands. It is likely to be slightly warmer tonight but only because snow showers are expected to sweep southwards from Scotland through to the South Coast of England.

The Pennines and the Peak District are expected to get the most fresh snow but almost everywhere should get at least a sprinkling by lunchtime. Mr Downton said it would remain "bitterly cold" all week with severe frosts overnight. "Daytime temperatures will barely get above freezing," he said.