Motorists were stranded in cars across the UK today as heavy snowfall left thousands of people without power, closed schools and caused widespread disruption across the travel network.
As much of the country lay under a thick white covering, breakdown companies said they were struggling to reach drivers who ventured out despite being warned to make only essential journeys.
In Wales, put on “red alert” by the Met Office, blizzards closed dozens of roads and left 10,000 householders across a variety of locations without electricity, though supply was restored later in the day to 5,000. The highest flurries were recorded in Powys; where 25cm snow fell in Sennybridge.
Elsewhere, in some English regions, the covering reached 10cm. Frantic scenes were reported in shops in Wales, the West Country and the Home Counties as shoppers fearing shortages panic bought. Scotland escaped the heaviest snow, which drifted down steadily throughout the day in an oblong block ranging from Belfast to Brighton.
More than 2,000 schools across the UK closed, including 1,200 in Wales, 700 schools in Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire, 500 in Hampshire, and 300 in Norfolk. Dozens more took similar action and some FE colleges delayed A-level exams, to the delight of some students.
In Wrightington, Lancashire, a 16-year-old girl was airlifted to hospital with serious head and back injuries after a snowboarding accident.
Most airports managed to keep flights open, but 405 flights were cancelled at Heathrow, while Birmingham and Southampton were closed for most of the day. There was also disruption at London City, Jersey, Belfast, Exeter, Leeds/Bradford and Bristol airports.
Eurostar cancelled four trains between London and Brussels while South West Trains, East Midlands, Greater Anglia and Southern companies ran amended timetables.
Many drivers heeded calls by motoring organisations to stay at home. Those who strayed out often regretted the decision. Despite the efforts of Highways Agency snowploughs and blowers to clear major route, jack-knifed lorries, other crashes and treacherous conditions caused long delays.
Dozens of A-roads were closed in Wales and the Midlands and there were snarl-ups on the M25 in Hertfordshire, Essex and Surrey; the M4 in Berkshire; the M3 in Surrey; the M1 in Leicestershire, the M6 and the M54 in Staffordshire. The Severn Bridge was shut and Cardiff city centre became a sludgy bumper-to-bumper convoy of commuters.
RAC spokesman Simon Williams said reaching stranded motorists was a “real challenge”. By the end of the day, the AA expected to attend around 11,000 call-outs, compared with 9,500 on an average Friday.
But the snow pleased some: pictures posted on the internet showed a few brightly-coloured adventurers joyously skiing down Park Street in Bristol. Ironically, the bad weather also forced the closure of Telford’s artificial ski slope.
In a poll for ITV News, 83 per cent of people said travel was too often disrupted by bad weather and 90 per cent felt train, bus and airport operators should be better prepared. But they should have fewer complaints this weekend, as forecasters predict the snow will ease off, with only light flurries – though heavier snowfalls are expected in Scotland.
Frank Saunders, Met Office chief forecaster, said: “Although some further slight snowfalls are likely, with 1cm to 2cm of fresh snow in a few places, the focus switches to ice, with temperatures staying below zero over snow cover for many areas.
“The public should be aware of the risk of localised disruption to transport during this spell of wintry weather.”