One last burst of heavy snow is expected across parts of Britain tomorrow before an expected relief from the blizzard conditions of the last four days.
With much of the country snowbound, thousands of schools closed and transport services struggling to cope today, tomorrow will be difficult once again as heavy snowfalls hit regions as far apart as South Wales and Northern Scotland.
Some of the heaviest falls will be caused by a westerly low-pressure system bringing moist warm air from the Atlantic, which will meet the solid mass of cold air from the east which has held Britain in its grip for most of the last week. Where the two clash, over South Wales and parts of Central and South-West England, as much as five centimetres of the white stuff can be expected once again.
North East Scotland and parts of the Pennines may be even worse hit with up to 10 cms and blizzards over high ground – but from Wednesday, conditions are likely to become more settled, although ice will continue to cause havoc for the rest of the week, with temperatures likely to remain substantially below the seasonal average.
Today, after what had largely been a snow-filled weekend, there was widespread travel chaos, with many rail services and flights suspended or cancelled, including flights from London’s Heathrow Airport, which lost about ten per cent of its services, while other airports including Gatwick and Birmingham also experienced disruptions.
Eurostar said snow and ice in the UK and northern France were leading to speed restrictions and delays on all its cross-Channel trains. Six services were also cancelled, with customers told they could exchange their tickets for another date, while Virgin Trains, First Capital Connect, Southeastern, Southern and South West Trains all experienced disruption.
Road travel was equally difficult, with two major roads across the Pennines, the A628 Woodhead Pass and the A66 between Brough and Bowes, closed because of snow drifts; in Northumbria, the Army was called out to rescue passengers in two stranded buses.
Many accidents were reported in the icy conditions. The AA said that today was one of the busiest days for call-outs this winter, at more than 17,000: breakdowns were being reported at a rate of around 2,000 an hour, with the busiest areas the Midlands, London, and the South West and South East of England. The company said that one of its own 4x4 patrol vehicles was written off in Surrey after it went too fast round a bend and skidded on ice.
There were a number of fatalities in the white-out, including a woman believed to have frozen to death after collapsing as she walked home from a night out through deep snow in Kent. Bernadette Lee, 25, was discovered in the front garden of the house next to her sister's in Deal: police said they were looking at the possibility that Ms Lee got into difficulties as she made her way home.
In Scotland, the fourth person killed in an avalanche in Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands at the weekend was named by police as Rachel Majumdar, 29, a doctor working at Harrogate District Hospital in North Yorkshire. She was originally from Merseyside and was most recently living in Leeds, Northern Constabulary said.
Not least of the weather disruption today was being experienced in schools: nearly 5,000, one in six, remained closed across the UK, and around a million pupils had an extra day a result of the snow - with some missing crucial GCSE and A-level exams.
Those who missed exams are being told they can ask for special consideration - which could lead to them being awarded grades on the basis of work already done or predictions of their expected.
Exam boards were adamant that rescheduling today’s papers was “not an option”. That could put in question the integrity of the system since schools would already have had access to the papers.
Meanwhile, one headteacher, Martin Stott, of the old Hall prep school for four-to-11-year-olds in Wellington, Telford, said he felt “a sense of duty” to remain open.
“If I close, many parents can make alternative arrangements and keep their children home but many can’t,” he said. “If I ask doctors to come and collect their kids or keep them at home lists get cancelled.”
Some primary schools in Yorkshire were operating a scheme whereby teachers could report for duty at the school nearest their home if they could not get to their usual place of employment,
The Department for Education said schools needed “to continue to provide an education whenever feasible”.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association for School and College Leaders - which represents secondary school heads, said: “No headteacher takes the decision to close their school lightly. Whilst heads will do everything they can to keep the school open, the key consideration has to be their ability to ensure the safety of students.”