Big freeze warning to drivers

 

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The Independent Online

Families setting off on half-term getaways have been warned of "deceptively dangerous" road conditions and sub-zero temperatures as the snow freezes tonight.

Forecasters predicted another hard frost setting in, with the mercury set to plummet to -9C in some areas.

But the bitterly cold weather is expected to ease over the weekend, with milder temperatures likely as the school holidays get under way.

The AA cautioned drivers to take extra care, especially if travelling to mainland Europe, where they face the risk of "frozen" diesel.

President Edmund King said: "There are still treacherous conditions on many local roads around the country. We found that even on local roads that had been gritted, the rain washed off the grit and turned to sheet ice.

"With further snow falls last night we now have some deceptively dangerous roads with a light cover of snow and sheet ice below.

"Drivers need to expect the unexpected and drive with extreme caution on local roads. It doesn't matter what vehicle you are in but if you get a heavy downpour of rain that almost instantly turns to ice, it is very difficult for grit to be effective."

Motorists were also advised to be prepared by carrying warm clothing and emergency provisions on their travels and allowing extra time for their journeys.

Darron Burness, the AA's head of special operations, said: "With half-term next week, some families will be heading off on long car journeys.

"Before departing, check the traffic and weather reports as the road conditions are quite unpredictable at the moment and it only takes one incident to cause long tail-backs.

"Anyone driving to Europe should be aware that it's so cold over there that diesel fuel can turn waxy, blocking the fuel filter and stopping cars running."

The problem was said to have prompted a high volume of call-outs as well as car hire restrictions and longer delays when waiting for breakdown recovery.

MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said although tomorrow would be a dry and sunny day in most areas, the weather in some western parts of England, north west Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would be largely cloudy, with rain or freezing drizzle.

Temperatures of 1C or 2C were forecast around much of England and Wales, rising to 8C or 9C in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Sunday is expected to be milder still.

But forecaster Sally Webb said: "There's likely to be a lot of ice, especially in northern areas where it's been raining today.

"People should be very careful on the roads as there are signs of ice forming and there's still snow lying around by the sides of roads, which is likely to freeze and become a hazard."

Temperatures overnight tonight were forecast to fall to as low as -9C in the Midlands and were set to stay around -7C in London and the south east tomorrow night.

Cumbria and Scotland saw snow flurries during the day today but no more snow was forecast.

The Met Office issued "yellow" severe weather warnings advising people to be aware of ice throughout much of the country tomorrow.

And the British Red Cross warned of the health dangers of the severe weather.

Joe Mulligan, head of first aid education, said: "Severe weather in winter can potentially be life-threatening especially to the elderly.

"But there are a few simple steps you can take to prevent developing conditions like hypothermia such as wearing a hat and lots of clothing layers and buying portable gas or oil-fired heaters in case your heating breaks down.

"If you have elderly relatives and neighbours, be sure to call in on them regularly and make sure they are warm enough and have enough provisions."

Meanwhile commuters suffered difficulties today, with a series of problems on main line rail services causing delays in south-east England.

One of the hold-ups, due to emergency engineering work at Mitcham Eastfields in Surrey, hit passengers travelling with the First Capital Connect (FCC) and Southern train companies.

Overhead wire problems near Bethnal Green in east London caused delays to some services in and out of London's Liverpool Street station, while signalling problems led to delays to FCC services between Cambridge and Hitchin.

FCC, as well as Gatwick Express and Southern, was also hit by signalling problems which caused hold-ups between Haywards Heath and Gatwick Airport stations in West Sussex.

On the London Underground the Jubilee line was suspended between Stanmore and Waterloo during the morning rush hour due to a faulty train at Willesden Green in north west London.

Another faulty train, at West Ham in east London, led to delays on three other Tube lines - the Circle, the District and the Hammersmith & City.

But by the afternoon, more than 97% of trains were operating, according to the Association of Train Operating Companies.

A spokesman said: "Across the country no significant disruption has been reported due to the bad weather with the vast majority of trains continuing to run on time.

"Where there has been some disruption, however, we apologise to anyone who has had trouble getting to where they want to go."

Heathrow Airport said there had been no disruption to flights, with none expected over the weekend either as skiers head off to the slopes for the holiday week.

West Midlands Ambulance Service said it had been "extremely busy" responding to weather-related emergency calls in Stoke-on-Trent, with many relating to ice-related incidents.

PA

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