Temperatures plunge as big freeze continues

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The Independent Online

Motorists were stranded and hundreds of schools closed today as the UK continued to shiver in the grip of freezing temperatures and heavy snow.

Forecasters warned there was no sign of a let-up in the icy conditions, with several more centimetres of snow continuing to fall in the North East and parts of eastern Scotland over coming days.

The rest of the UK will also be affected, with snow moving south, and only parts of western Scotland and Northern Ireland free of snow showers by tomorrow afternoon, forecasters said.

In Scotland, more than 600 people were offered emergency accommodation at a sports hall in Perth after they were stranded overnight on the A90, M90 and A9 amid blizzard conditions.

The A9 between Dunblane and Perth, one of the busiest roads in Scotland, was closed last night, with drivers urged by Central Scotland Police to avoid the roads throughout the rest of the force area unless absolutely necessary.

A spokesman said: "Conditions are horrendous and we would urge caution."

All schools in Dundee, West Lothian and Shetland were closed today.

Across York and North Yorkshire, around 50 schools were forced to shut this morning with several schools in East Yorkshire also closed for the day.

Driving was described as hazardous across many parts of Yorkshire as more snow began to fall.

In East Yorkshire, police urged motorists to take extra care and drive according to the weather conditions after another night of snow left a number of roads across the region difficult to negotiate.

Coldest overnight in the UK was Altnaharra in northern Scotland, which recorded a low of minus 16.1C (3F).

Llysdinam, which saw Wales's chilliest ever November reading yesterday at minus 18C (minus 0.4F), was a bit warmer today at minus 12.9C (8.8F).



The temperature in Northolt, west London, bottomed out at minus 2.2C (28F), but it was colder in the South West, with North Dartmoor recording minus 7.9C (17.8F).

So far Scotland and the North East have been worst hit by snow, with more than 16in (40cm) in parts, and police have advised people to stay indoors for all but essential travel.

Several airports were disrupted yesterday, with Edinburgh closed due to heavy snow and Aberdeen suffering delays after snow-clearing and de-icing took place.

Newcastle International, Luton and Jersey also saw disruption.

Premier League side Chelsea were among those caught out by the weather, with a cancelled flight from Newcastle forcing the team to make a 300-mile coach trip home after yesterday's match in the city.

Forecasters warned that the rest of the country is likely to be blanketed this week.

The severe conditions could also last well into next week, with rain, sleet and snow.

Brendan Jones, senior forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said snow would be moving south across the UK with many areas starting tomorrow morning with a covering of snow.

A further "several centimetres" of snow would fall in the North East and parts of eastern Scotland over the next few days, he added.

"We now have snow showers further south, parts of East Anglia, even down into Kent are seeing snow showers at present, even into the East Midlands," he said.

"The snow shower risk is expanding further south and a little bit further west as well but not getting into Wales at the moment. The only exception is the far south west tip of Cornwall which is seeing some hail and snow.

"That is not to say that snow showers are not going to continue in the North East and parts of eastern Scotland - they are going to carry on there as well."

London could get a fairly light "covering" of snow with flurries setting in from this afternoon, he said.

"It may well be snowing by this evening, probably some light showers," he said.

"I suspect the worst of the conditions are likely to be overnight once the transport networks have closed down.

"I think a fairly significant portion of the UK will have at least a snow shower or two by tomorrow morning. The areas most likely to be dry by this time tomorrow will be parts of western Scotland and Northern Ireland."

He said there would be "little change" until Thursday when it is expected that there will be a "significant" risk of more snow in the South East as well as other areas.

Met Office severe weather warnings were in place along the east coast today, with heavy snow from Scotland, down through the North East, Yorkshire and Humber, East Midlands and the East of England.

A spokesman for the AA said they had received 7,500 breakdown calls by 10am this morning, which they were either attending or in the process of sending patrols to - more than the double the normal number.

He added that, as of 10am, calls were coming in at the rate of more than 2,700 an hour.

He said there had been a "massive increase" in home start call- outs, mainly due to flat car batteries after people stayed at home over the weekend.

Drivers should be prepared when they set out, he warned, with warm clothing in case of a breakdown, accident or road closures.

"I think there is that mindset where people think 'It is not going to happen to me, I am not going to get stuck', people think of their cars as an extension of themselves," he said.

"They forget that if there is a breakdown or an accident - we have had call-outs to a lot of shunts where people slide into the car in front of them - they have to get to a place of safety.

"It is really vitally important that people wrap up warm."

A Highways Agency spokesman, responsible for motorways and major A roads in England, said there was a temporary closure of a section of the A66 near Bowes last night while snowploughs cleared the road.

One lane was closed eastbound on the M4 Severn Crossing for around an hour this morning as a precaution after ice started to form on the bridge supports.

"That has now been cleared, they have been out and checked and it is OK," he added.

He said severe weather meant delays in clearing a section of the A1 near Berwick last night after a lorry overturned.

"At the moment, the network is all flowing nicely, but obviously we are keeping a very close eye on it," he said.

"It is Monday morning and the advice that we issued last week still stands - be aware and be sensible. If the weather is bad, make sure you have got an emergency kit in the car and think about whether the journey is absolutely necessary.

"Check our website (http://www.highways.gov.uk) and check the weather forecasts and traffic reports. Make sure you leave plenty of time."

In Cornwall, 44 schools were closed because of the weather, with another 12 opening later in the morning, Cornwall Council said.

In Leigh, Lancashire, Arctic weather helped police catch a pair of suspected thieves after they followed a trail of frozen water leaking from a stolen boiler.

The boiler was ripped out of the kitchen of a house in Leigh, Lancashire, and carried to a nearby address.

Police were called to the property in Firs Lane at around 1.50am today following reports of a break-in, Greater Manchester Police said.

Amid sub-zero temperatures, the leaky boiler dripped water which then froze on the ground - and officers followed the trail to the door of a nearby house where they discovered it.

Two men, aged 38 and 29, were arrested on suspicion of burglary and remain in police custody for questioning.

Thunderstorms hit the North East as blizzards buried some areas beneath two feet of snow.

Bolts of lightning and rolling thunder heralded snowstorms which hit the coast last night.

The unexpected light and noise was made more eerie by the blanket of white covering Northumberland and Tyne and Wear.

Meteorologists said the thunderstorms were caused by warm air rising from the North Sea.

Student Kirsty Cable, 26, from Heaton, Newcastle, said the thunder sounded "like bombs going off".

She said: "The snow was falling when suddenly the sky was lit with very bright, sheet white light and then I heard the thunder.

"At first I did not know what was happening. It was quite frightening.

"I've never seen thunder and lightning in a snowstorm before."

The storm continued for about 10 minutes.

A Meteogroup spokesman said winter thunderstorms were less common than summer storms, but not unheard-of.

He said warm seas caused last night's storm.

He said: "The main difference between summer and winter storms is that summer storms are caused by the land heating up, which causes warm air to rise by convection and this causes thunder and lightning.

"At the moment, the sea temperature is really warm, about 9C, which is a lot warmer than the very cold air and this creates the convection.

"The storms generate at sea and then move inland, where they lose their power."

Snow two feet deep has fallen in parts of Northumberland.

In Falstone, near Kielder Forest, retired schoolteacher Don Clegg has cleared some of the deepest areas so red squirrels can feed.

Mr Clegg, 78, said: "We have had snow on top of snow on top of snow.

"It's lying two feet deep in parts and it's not drifting, it's just built up from the snow coming straight down.

"Squirrels come in the garden and so I've cleared a space for them to find sunflower seeds, monkey nuts and the like which we put out for them.

"It stops them having to hop over the surface like little jack in the boxes.

"There's plenty of pine cones still in the trees but I like to make things a little easier for them."

Skiers and snowboarders are delighted at the weather and are praying more is to come.

In Allenheads, people have been skiing on the 100-yard slope in fields above the village since yesterday.

The downhill course is fitted with a ski-lift powered by two vintage tractors and begins at 1,770ft.

Allenheads Ski membership secretary Mike Horrocks, of Cramlington, said: "We had the first day of skiing yesterday.

"There's six inches on the slope, which is usually plenty, but it's pretty wet and slushy so we are looking forward to more snow coming down.

"People using the runs will pack the snow down and we hope to be running tows all week."

Binmen have been put on emergency snow-clearing duty as the country fights the grip of the big freeze.

Rubbish collections in North Tyneside were suspended today so that refuse collection vehicle drivers and crews could help grit roads.

A spokesman said it was not safe for the binmen to attempt collections on most residential streets.

North Tyneside Council's head of environmental services Phil Scott apologised for the disruption.

He said: "Weather conditions are obviously treacherous so we have suspended collections to ensure the safety of the public and our crews.

"We would like to thank residents for their patience and understanding. The situation is being kept under regular review and we aim to resume collections as soon as it is safe to do so."

Residents have been advised take their bins in today, and put them out on their next scheduled collection day.

Mr Scott said the council's 12 gritting vehicles would be in action for as long as the storms lasted.

Staff were also gritting and clearing areas of high footfall such as town centres, footbridges and older people's accommodation.

In total, the council has distributed around 1,000 tonnes of rock salt this winter.















The ice and snow led to the closure of around 78 schools, nurseries and pre-schools in Cornwall, and difficult driving conditions for many people trying to get to work.

Cornwall Council's fleet of gritter lorries carried out precautionary salting on all 25 routes, including the most heavily used A and B roads in the country, as well as access to hospitals, fire stations and routes to secondary schools last night.



Gritting crews went out again in the early hours of today in west Cornwall and were joined by colleagues from the east of the county later to assist.



"We usually aim to carry out salting before freezing occurs but Cornwall's climate means that we are often faced with the problem of near freezing temperatures combined with showers," said Jeremy Edwards, from Cornwall Council's highways service.



"If the salt is washed off roads which have been treated by subsequent rain, sleet or hail showers, the road surfaces are likely to freeze.



"We can never guarantee that roads will be free of ice and would urge all drivers to ensure that they drive according to the existing road and weather conditions."









The Arctic conditions have been caused by a combination of light winds, snow cover and clear skies - and could see readings down to minus 20C in Scotland later this week.

The UK's lowest ever recorded temperature in November was minus 23.3C recorded in Braemar, in the Scottish Highlands, on November 14 1919.



In an update issued later, the AA said there had been "unprecedented" demand for its services compared to a normal Monday in November, with around 12,400 calls for assistance, coming in at more than 2,100 every hour.



On a normal Monday in November, the AA would typically attend around 10,500 call-outs for the whole day.



The demand follows a very busy weekend, with AA patrols attending more than 30,000 breakdowns over the two days.



Paul Leather, AA patrol of the year, says: "Over the weekend, most people had the choice about whether or not to venture out but this morning people needed to get to work, so had to brave the conditions.



"The extremely cold overnight temperatures are a killer for car batteries and icy roads have caused many problems.



"Cars need a regular run of 45 minutes to an hour to let the battery recharge, so if you only do stop-start journeys, it will often struggle to start as the battery is placed under great strain in these temperatures.



"On top of this, with many cars having sat idle over the weekend, it's been an exceptionally busy morning - we've had a full day's-worth of breakdowns by lunchtime."





















Staff at Paignton Zoo and Living Coasts in Devon are making sure their animals are comfortable as forecasters predict a long spell of sub-zero temperatures.

Spokesman Phil Knowling said: "A lot of species are very adaptable - you get cold nights even on the plains of Africa.



"Extra bedding is provided for species like bongos, giraffes and zebras. We make sure our animals have all the warmth and shelter they need.



"Some birds are moved indoors in anticipation of cold weather, others are moved if and when it comes.



"In cold weather the most important thing is to stop ice forming on water troughs and in the lakes.



"Mediterranean tortoises go into hibernation, but the giant tortoises will often choose to go outside in the winter. Some animals even like to sleep outside in cold weather."



Exotic trees like date palms are wrapped up against the frost, but the Crocodile Swamp remains at a balmy 28 degrees all year round, regardless of the weather.



"This weather is probably hardest on the keepers, as the care, feeding and mucking-out of livestock goes on regardless, even when it's freezing cold outside," Mr Knowling said.



"Our gardens department has its own mini gritter to salt footpaths. Some older keepers remember past winters when they had to row around the lake to break up the ice."



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