A sixth day of sub-zero temperatures and blizzards brought enduring misery to holidaymakers yesterday as the annual Christmas getaway moved into its final and busiest 48 hours.
In spite of a week of Arctic conditions that have lead to nine deaths and millions of delayed journeys, a further 12 million people are expected to take their chances on Britain's roads by the end of today to reach their loved ones in time for the holiday season.
Airports, train lines and major motorways all struggled to cope during another night of sub-zero temperatures which brought the mercury down as low as -16C in Scotland and caused a spate of crashes across the country.
In Cornwall two women, Irene Spencer, 78, and Patricia Pryor, 70, were killed and 47 people were injured late on Tuesday evening when a bus carrying elderly revellers back from a trip to see the Christmas lights in the fishing village of Mousehole skidded on black ice and slammed into a tree. Both women came from nearby Camborne.
The road they had been travelling on was a minor road and had not been gritted. The first police vehicle to arrive also skidded on the same patch of ice and crashed into the bus, although there were no casualties in the second accident.
Further deaths were reported across the country. In Greater Manchester, 60-year-old Denis Livesley was killed as he tried to rescue a car that had crashed during a blizzard on the M60. In Bolton Adam Littleford, 43, plunged through the ice of High Rid reservoir as he tried to rescue his dog. And in Maidstone, the frozen body of a homeless man, Ronald Mosney, was found by police yesterday morning in a public park.
At Prestwick airport outside Glasgow a Ryanair flight skidded off the runway while taxiing towards the terminal. None of the 123 passengers and six crew were injured in the accident which occurred just after 9am.
The AA was called out to more than 12,000 breakdowns between midnight and 3pm yesterday while police were kept busy with a series of pile-ups including six accidents on the M27 near Southampton and a 50-car accident on the A35. The AA warned people to take extra care today as temperatures will not start to rise until tomorrow.
"After the past two days, people will probably be a lot more cautious but that's probably a good thing as there is still a lot of snow and ice about," a spokesman said. "We advise motorists that it's important to consider the weather and traffic reports along the whole journey and people shouldn't underestimate the conditions, so make sure you carry all the essentials in case of breakdown or accident."
Delays at airports up and down the country continued to a lesser extent yesterday but passengers are still advised to check with their carrier or airport for the latest flight information as delays are likely to continue. The icy roads have also affected a number of online shoppers. Supermarket chains Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury's said they had been forced to cancel some home deliveries because of ice on the roads while the Royal Mail admitted an estimated five per cent of their deliveries had been delayed.
Those hoping that a white Christmas would be one of the few positive repercussions of the current freeze, meanwhile, are likely to be disappointed. Although the cool temperatures will keep the snow that has already fallen on the ground, the likelihood of fresh snowfall on Christmas Day itself is virtually non-existent according to meteorologists.
"I know, it's rather disappointing," said Barry Gromett a meteorologist at the Met Office. "We've had six days of winter hell but come Christmas Day I'd be very surprised to see snow falling anywhere, even in the Highlands. Come Boxing Day we could even see double figures across the south-west."
This will be music to the ears of the nation's bookies who have seen a flurry of white Christmas bets in the past week. William Hill received 26,000 alone – a company record – in the past seven days and say they stand to make more than £1m if the skies stay clear.
"The snow has been a major catalyst for new bets and we stand to do quite well," admitted William Hill's Rupert Adams. "However, the weather forecasters have been wrong before so we are not counting all our eggs just yet."
Festive travel information
The traditional Christmas engineering works mean it may be best to avoid the following routes: Nottingham to Derby Sunday 27 Dec to Sun 3 Jan London Liverpool Street to Hackney Downs Sat 26 Dec to Mon 28 Dec Ilford to London Liverpool Street Sun 27 Dec to Sun 3 Jan Bristol/Gloucester to Newport Sun 27 to Sun 3 Jan Southampton area Thur 24 Dec to Sun 3 Jan London Victoria to Balham Sun 27 to Mon 28 Dec Crewe to Wilmslow Sun 27 Dec to Mon 28 Dec There will be no service on Christmas Day and across most rail networks on Boxing Day, but 95% of stations will be open between Christmas and the New Year.
National Rail Enquiries: 0845 748 4950, www.nationalrail.co.uk
The AA dealt with 18,000 call-outs yesterday, and another 18,000 on Tuesday. Heavy traffic is expected on the M1, M4, M5, M6 and M25 in both directions. The A74M northbound to Scotland will also be busy. The Highways Agency foresees a lot of traffic in the morning trailing off toward the middle of the afternoon. The Met Office warns that there will be icy roads and heavy snow in the North and East of England. Swanley in Kent has run out of grit until the New Year. Check the forecasts, along with your tyres, water-reserve levels and mobile phone battery, and dress warmly if embarking on a long journey.
See www.metoffice.gov.uk or www.highways.gov.uk for information.
Most airports are now open but many flights are experiencing delays and the snow is likely to continue to fall up the north-east side of the country, so passengers are advised to check their airport’s website for updates. Glasgow Prestwick re-opened after a plane skidded off the runway yesterday while flights are returning to normal at Luton, Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick. Newcastle International, Leeds-Bradford International, Edinburgh International, Manchester and Liverpool have cleared the snow and are operational but still experiencing delays and cancellations. Some easyJet and BA flights from Gatwick and Heathrow were cancelled yesterday, but Gatwick is now fully operational after snow closed the runway yesterday.Reuse content