Fresh snow brings chaos to schools and roads

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The Independent Online

Fierce winter weather returned to cause havoc today as snow forced a number of schools to shut and disrupted the transport network.

South-west England bore the brunt of the latest weather front with Gloucestershire particularly badly affected.

Although the snowfall was mild in comparison to the heavy falls that have blighted the UK recently, 50 schools were shut in the county and a number of major roads temporarily reduced to gridlock by the conditions.

Eight schools in Shropshire and four in Herefordshire were also forced to close.

Forecasters said the snow had turned to rain and would be quickly washed away where it had fallen.

Steve Ellison, forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "We have seen some relatively heavy snowfall in parts of the South West today.

"That snow is now fizzling out and in most areas has turned to rain. This rain will also fizzle out as the evening progresses with a dry night in store for most."

Another front is expected from the Atlantic tomorrow evening bringing wind, heavy rain and sleet over the hills.

There is still a risk of flooding in some areas as high temperatures and heavy rain are likely to make snow thaw quickly.

Earlier today the busy A417 at Birdlip near Cheltenham was reported to be gridlocked because of the snow.

One commuter wrote on the Gloucestershire Echo website: "Traffic is still at a standstill. Literally moved about 10ft in the last half an hour."

Heavy snow also caused delays on the A436 at Severn Springs.

Some gritters were stuck in traffic, the county's police force said.

At one stage officers were using 4x4s to get to collisions.

The Highways Agency said the situation had improved with the road network now running smoothly.

A spokeswoman said: "Everything is now running as we would expect it for this time of the day."

Despite the school closures, exams were still expected to take place.

A notice on Gloucestershire County Council's website said: "Parents should assume that all external exams will go ahead this week regardless of school closures due to bad weather."

Herefordshire Council said refuse and recycling collections were continuing as long as weather permitted, while primary routes across the county were again being gritted, although some roads remained closed due to flooding.

A spokesman added: "The council has planned adequate supplies of rock salt and deliveries have been received early this morning."

The first supplies of gritting salt ordered from the US and Spain were due to arrive in the UK today, and the relaxation of lorry drivers' permitted working hours introduced to keep supplies flowing earlier in the month have been extended for a further seven days.

The Environment Agency warned that flooding remained a risk.

A spokesman said: "There are still a number of flood warnings and widespread flood watches in force due to saturated catchments and lingering snow and ice in some upland areas.

"Generally river levels are falling across the country, although temporary defences remain in place at Upton-on-Severn.

"We are expecting more heavy rain across England and Wales on Thursday afternoon and Friday before clearing on Saturday.

"Higher temperatures combined with heavy rainfall could result in a more rapid thawing of snow and increased flood risk.

"There is a low risk of significant property flooding in Wales and parts of England.

"We urge people to stay up to date with weather and flood information from the Met Office and Environment Agency."