Return to work hit by second wave of blizzards

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The Independent Online

Commuters struggled with snow and freezing temperatures yesterday as they tried to return to work after Christmas.

A second night of blizzards across eastern England and Scotland left up to 7 inches (18cm) of snow on roads, making conditions treacherous. Severe disruption on major roads and railways led to the cancellation of trains. It also prompted motoring organisations and police to warn drivers to stay at home unless their travel was essential.

Meteorologists said they expected heavy snow last night and even colder conditions today. Overnight temperatures were expected to fall to as low as minus 10C (14F) in some places and most of eastern England is unlikely to see the thermometer rise above freezing today. Rain tomorrow may turn snow to ice, making conditions even more dangerous.

Kent was worst hit by yesterday's snow, the Met Office said. All mainline trains from the Kent coast into London were cancelled throughout the morning peak. Poor road conditions prevented replacement bus services from running and led to the closure of lanes on the M20 and A20.

Tony Pascall, 42, a City banker, who arrived at Ashford International station intending to catch the 8.30am service to London Bridge, said: "I get annoyed when it's leaves on the line or a smattering of snow and frost, but frankly this looks more like the Trans-Siberian than Network Rail."

Snow showers persisted in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Norfolk, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. The coldest temperature recorded was at Benson in Oxfordshire on Tuesday night, where the thermometer dropped to minus 8.2C (18F).

Building snowmen and walking the dog took the place of planned trips to see friends and relatives. Tesco has ordered more winter-warming foods after customers stocked up on soups, hot chocolate and curries.

"It is very difficult to get out and about in this snow," said a spokesman for the Met Office. Showers of snow and sleet were set to continue until late today or early tomorrow, he said, when they would make way for rain and warmer temperatures of up to 9C by the weekend. To add to motorists' problems, some petrol stations ran out of fuel because of the high Christmas demand and the effects of the Buncefield oil depot fire at Hemel Hempstead. Oil companies said stocks were good and there was no need for panic buying.

Travellers trying to spend New Year in continental Europe joked that "the wrong kind of snow" on loading ramps had prevented them from boarding trains to France. A spokeswoman for Eurotunnel confirmed that the "heavy and sudden" snow showers on Tuesday evening led to suspension of services for an hour while operators struggled to clear the fall. Passengers were still suffering delays of 90 minutes yesterday afternoon.

Sporting casualties of the weather included last night's Bolton v Middlesbrough, Newcastle v Charlton and Blackburn v Sunderland Premiership matches and 14 other football league fixtures.

Racing at Catterick and Newbury was cancelled for a second successive day, and today's meetings at Newbury and Musselburgh have been abandoned.

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