Britons set for Easter getaway in search of sun as freezing weather shows no sign of abating

Snow and freezing temperatures are continuing to cause disruption across the country with thousands of people still without power

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The Independent Online

With the atrocious weather set to make this Easter the coldest ever - the plunging temperatures, blizzards and snow have driven millions of Britons to head to warmer climes in search of sun, travel agents have said.

Snow and freezing temperatures are continuing to cause disruption across the country with thousands of people still without power.

More than 3,000 people in Argyll in Scotland and the Isle of Arran remained cut off overnight after ice and snow damaged pylons, damaging the electricity network.

Elsewhere, transport routes across the UK remained impassible as deep snow drifts buried roads as the dangerous weather showed no immediate signs of abating.

Forecasters have warned the cold weather will last for at least a few more days, and the Met Office has extended its level 3 cold weather alert until Friday.

The weather has also caused problems for farmers.

An RAF Chinook helicopter has been called to help as part of an emergency operation to reach farms and families cut off by huge snow drifts in Northern Ireland.

The MoD agreed to a request by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers for the helicopter because of the growing plight facing farmers struggling to trace missing sheep who have vanished in snow drifts of up to 20 feet high.

A spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) said some of its members were reporting "strong demand for last-minute overseas holiday deals as customers look to escape the freezing temperatures in the UK".

"Some members are reporting over 50% increases in demand year on year for certain sunshine destinations," he said.

Airports are said to be expecting more than two millions passengers to jet off to warmer climes over the four day break. Heathrow will see 1.2 million passengers to go through the airport between Thursday 28 March and Tuesday 2 April.  Stansted is expecting 20,00 passengers and Gatwick around 400,000.

Meanwhile, forecasters have warned that those remaining in the UK will face cold weather for at least a few more days.

The Met Office has extended its level 3 cold weather alert until Friday.

Paul Mott, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said that while most areas will have a lot of drier weather throughout the rest of the week, the cold will be here for the foreseeable future.

"Where there is a lot of snow lying on the ground we should see a slow thaw by the end of the week, with temperatures creeping up to 4C or 5C (39F or 41F) during the days by about Friday," Mr Mott said.

"But there is still going to be a very sharp frost during the night. For the foreseeable future it is going to stay cold, and the snow of the ground is likely to last for some time."

The Met Office also issued yellow warnings of snow and ice for much of north east England and eastern Scotland, with warnings of snow for the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East.

A Met Office statement warned of a "100% probability" of severe cold weather and icy conditions until Friday morning.

"Bitterly cold easterly winds will persist this week, bringing snow showers to north-east England and light snow flurries across other areas of England," it said.

"With lying snow and partial snow melt during the daytimes, icy conditions are likely during the nights."

The AA said it attended more than 12,500 breakdowns across the country yesterday, with more than 16,000 call-outs for the day.

The breakdown firm said it has dealt with more than 1,100 call-outs to people who have got stuck in snow, ice or floodwater since Thursday - including more than 150 yesterday.

The Arctic conditions are thought to have claimed a number of lives.

The body of Gary Windle, 25, was found by a farmer in deep snow in Brierfield, near Burnley, Lancashire on Saturday, while a woman died on Friday when her house in Looe, Cornwall, collapsed during a landslip following torrential rain.

Bookies Ladbrokes now has a white Easter as odds-on, and is offering 5/1 that it will be the coldest Easter weekend ever.

The firm has also offered odds on Sunday's University Boat Race being disrupted by ice on the Thames.