Heavy snowfall sees Met Office put Britain on high alert

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Roads and rail lines brought to a standstill and power supplies under threat as previously unaffected areas brace themselves for big freeze

Millions of people living in southern England and the Home Counties were told to prepare themselves for up to 40cm (16in) of snow last night, as Britain remained in the grip of the longest prolonged spell of cold weather in 30 years.

The Met Office issued its highest level of alert, warning of an impending "extreme weather event" that would bring travel chaos and threaten power supplies. Worst hit overnight will be Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire – parts of which have not seen any snow since the arctic weather began before Christmas.

Forecasters said it would be snowing in London before dawn, bringing widespread disruption to the capital and forcing many workers to stay at home. Last night, all flights were suspended from Luton, Southampton, Gatwick and Birmingham airports.

The Met Office said the freezing conditions were expected to continue for up to two weeks. A meteorologist said: "This type of warning is very rare. A period of exceptionally heavy snowfall is expected, with accumulations of 15 to 30cm and perhaps in excess of 40cm."

Heavy snow fell across northern England and Scotland yesterday, closing airports and shutting schools, while many motorways ground to a halt and smaller routes remained impassable. Bus services in Sheffield and other parts of South Yorkshire were suspended, leaving thousands without any means of transport. Temperatures plunged to a low of minus 14C in Scotland, and 29cm of snow fell in Spadeadam, Cumbria.

The National Grid also issued an alert urging power suppliers to use less gas as it tried to find more supplies from overseas to meet a 30 per cent rise in demand. Gordon Brown and the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, sought to ease fears that Britain was running out of power, insisting reserves would last through the cold snap, but the shadow Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, claimed the UK had just eight days of gas remaining. The Prime Minister said: "I think Britain can deal with these problems. There are always difficulties when we have a long spell of bad weather. But we can cope."

All schools in Aberdeenshire, Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders were shut yesterday, and students across the North of England, Wales and Cornwall were also sent home. The freezing weather created a child-care crisis: Amanda Coxen of the nanny agency Tinies said her company had a 50 per cent increase in inquiries, while emergencychild-care.co.uk reported a five-fold increase in bookings.

A six-year-old boy was rescued and taken to hospital after falling through ice in a garden pond while playing with a friend. It is thought he had been underwater for half an hour before he was pulled out by firefighters. Last night he was in a critical condition in Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital, with his parents by his side.

Fears were mounting for the safety of Ian Simpkin, 36, from Wath near Ripon in North Yorkshire, who left home on foot on Sunday morning and has not been seen since. And in Derbyshire, two 13-year-old boys had to be rescued by firefighters from an island in the middle of a frozen lake.

A lorry driver was killed in a collision on the M60 in Manchester in treacherous driving conditions, while a 44-year-old man was treated for shock after his car skidded on snow into the path of a train on a level-crossing near Selby, North Yorkshire. He was able to scramble out and avoid the oncoming train just before it hit his vehicle.

There were also concerns over a shortage of grit, despite assurances from councils that stocks would be sufficient. Staff at Cheshire's Winsford salt mine said they would work around the clock to help keep the roads open.

But not everyone was pulling together – residents at Market Weighton in East Yorkshire said that thieves were emptying their grit bins as soon as they were filled. An independent councillor in Wigan hired his own grit supplies after hearing complaints from locals about slippery pavements.

The bad weather did, however, provide a boost to shops and supermarkets. Tesco said soup sales were up 80 per cent, while B&Q said demand for wellies had doubled. Halfords reported a 22 per cent rise in sales of sleeping-bags – bought by motorists fearful of being stranded in their cars.

There was more bad news for the husband of a woman, Kay Ure, who became cut off from her remote home in a lighthouse keeper's cottage at Cape Wrath in the Scottish Highlands after she ventured out to buy a turkey two days before Christmas. John Ure's generator has broken down, leaving him to rely on logs for heat and candles for light until the weather eases.

But those able to get out and enjoy the weather did so in style, with naked sledgers posting footage of themselves braving the chill on YouTube.

Sea ice and snowdrifts: Bitter British winters

1962-63 The coldest winter for 200 years left the sea frozen in places. Wales and South-west England had snowdrifts up to 6m deep and the mercury dropped to -22.C in Braemar, Scotland, on 18 January. The cold spell lasted into early March.

1946-47 Snowdrifts 7m deep cut off thousands of people. Power stations closed because of a lack of fuel; TV broadcasts were suspended. The freeze hit the economy, barely recovering from war, and contributed to an atmosphere of shortage and austerity. Snow fell somewhere in the UK for 55 continuous days between January and March.

1739-40 Severe cold destroyed potato seeds in Ireland, causing the great potato famine of 1741. The sea froze around English and Irish ports, halting the shipment of coal. People desperate for firewood stripped hedges bare; 14 men were arrested for felling trees in Dublin's Phoenix Park.

1684 The Thames froze for two months. Frost caused trees to split. The lack of running water halted production in breweries.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems & Data Lead – Oxfordshire – Permanent – Up to £24k

£20000 - £24000 Per Annum 28 days holiday, free parking, pension: Clearwater P...

Digital Media Manager

£38000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Secondary Teachers looking for work near Peterborough

£100 - £140 per day + Competitive Pay: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary...

Secondary School Teachers and NQTs required now

£100 - £140 per day + Very competitive pay: Randstad Education Cambridge: Teac...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?