Bookies count the cost of first white Christmas for five years

More snow hits Scotland and the North but southern England turns a lot milder
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The Independent Online

Motorists heading home after their Christmas festivities found conditions had improved in many parts of the country following seven days of chaos on roads, railways and airports.

But snow fell again in some areas yesterday to make it the first white Christmas for five years, the Met Office confirmed. An official white Christmas requires a single flake to be observed falling in the 24 hours of 25 December. The first fell in Watnall, Nottinghamshire, and in Glasgow.

Bookmakers had been expecting to pay out on one of the nation's favourite annual wagers, with William Hill making Aberdeen the odds-on favourite to see snow at 4/6. Edinburgh and Glasgow were offered at 10/11.

The company took a record 27,000 bets on a white Christmas with nearly 15,000 bets on London alone, which was set at odds of 2/1. A spokesman said: "We have potentially dodged a monster payout but we are still going to be watching Buckingham Palace like a hawk, as just a flake or two will decide whether we are going to have a festive season or not. We still expect to take a hit with snow in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but are hopeful that London will miss out."

Further heavy snowfall was forecast last night for Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Peak District, Cumbria and northern England, with some roads still treacherous because of ice and fog.

However, Andrew Sibley, of the Met Office, said southern England and Wales would be warmer today, with temperatures of up to 9C or 10C. "We are expecting wintry showers across Northern Ireland, which we think will turn into sleet and snow this afternoon and tonight. That band of snow will spread to southern Scotland and the north-west of England.

"Further south there will be showers but snow is unlikely, and temperatures will be higher than they have been for the last few days in many places."

The Highways Agency said the roads stayed fairly quiet throughout Christmas Day, although there was an eight-car pile-up on the M1 near Long Eaton. Both carriageways were shut for three hours and two people were airlifted to hospital.

The agency has suspended roadworks at 44 sites until midnight on 3 January but, after last week's severe weather claimed at least five lives, many families had cancelled their Christmas travel plans. But Andrew Howard, of the AA, said yesterday: "We've dealt with more than 120,000 breakdowns since the cold snap started, which is double the amount we would usually expect during that period. It has been a very difficult situation to deal with as our patrols have been stuck in exactly the same traffic and experiencing the same poor conditions as our members."

Following delays and cancellations at most airports on Christmas Eve, airlines were expecting to resume normal services today, while Eurostar said it planned to run a "near normal" service from London to France and Belgium today and tomorrow, including ski trains to the Alps.

The weather has wreaked havoc with the sporting calendar. Boxing Day National Hunt meetings at Towcester, Sedgefield, Wetherby and Market Rasen have been called off, while Wincanton and Huntingdon face late inspections. Meanwhile, all but two of the Scottish Football League's fixtures today have been postponed.

Despite the chill, brave swimmers took to the water for their traditional Christmas Day dips in the Serpentine in London's Hyde Park and off Brighton beach, where the sea temperature was a bracing 6.5C.

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