The big freeze has Britain in its grip – and isn't letting go

Transport infrastructure bears the brunt as heavy snowfalls blanket nation
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Britain was wrapped in a thick blanket of snow yesterday as the country suffered one of the coldest ends to November in nearly two decades – but forecasters warned temperatures could sink even lower before the cold snap ends.

Commuters at London's Victoria Station saw the vast departures board go blank as all services in and out of the station were suspended.

Many areas that avoided the thick flurries yesterday were expected to be hit by snowfall overnight. Parts of the Midlands, the South-east and southern England have been warned they could be under two inches of snow before temperatures rise again. Meteorologists believe it is the coldest end to November since 1993.

Heavy snow warnings were issued by the Met Office for Yorkshire and Humber, the east Midlands, east and north-east England, London and south-east England. Tony Waters, its chief forecaster, said there was "no sign in our extended outlook of the icy weather easing its grip". Only Cornwall and parts of western Scotland are expected to be unaffected.



Trains

Commuters faced a nightmare journey home tonight as London's transport network ground to a halt in the face of snow and freezing conditions.

Passengers at Victoria Station were told all trains into and out of the terminal were cancelled while other services around the the capital were severely reduced. Scotland and the North suffered severe disruption from track closures. A revised timetable was introduced on the East Coast line, with reduced services from Edinburgh to London and on the Leeds to London routes. Coaches were used to ferry travellers between Newcastle and Middlesbrough, and in the South-west between Exeter and Barnstaple. By the afternoon, the Association of Train Operating Companies said only 70 per cent of trains were running on time.



Roads

The RAC said call-outs peaked at around 2,000 an hour yesterday and that demand was around double its usual level for the time of year. One man was killed and two others injured yesterday afternoon after a crash on the M18 in South Yorkshire. Local police said the three-way crash happened when a recovery truck collided with other cars on an exit from the motorway amid snowy conditions.

The A57 Snake Pass, near Sheffield, was shut because of extreme weather, along with the A628 Woodhead Pass between Langsett and Mottram. In Blyth, Northumberland, one car overturned and two others slid off the road during the morning rush hour. Sections of the A66 in Cumbria, the A57 in Greater Manchester and A49 in Shropshire were also shut.

The Local Government Association said councils had already increased their stockpiles of grit, but Aberdeenshire councillors warned they had begun rationing their supplies of salt.



Airports

Several airports were affected by the bad weather yesterday, with severe disruption for those flying from Aberdeen, Durham Tees Valley and Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster.

Flights were cancelled at Gatwick. Cancellations and delays also beset Leeds Bradford International Airport all day. Edinburgh Airport, forced to close overnight, reopened yesterday. Meanwhile, London City Airport faced cancellations and severe delays.



Schools

Thousands of schools across the UK were forced to close, giving many children another day off to play in the snow. Around 850 shut in Scotland, which suffered the worst of yesterday's snowfall. In Lincolnshire, around 60 schools were closed because of dangerous driving conditions, along with 30 in South Yorkshire and 60 in Derbyshire. More than 100 closed on Teesside and 130 in Essex.



Power failures

More than 30,000 homes lost power in Teesside and County Durham yesterday morning. Most were swiftly reconnected, but some households in Hartlepool had to wait until the afternoon for the return of their electricity.

Some retailers were the inevitable beneficiaries of the cold weather. In the past week, B&Q said it had sold around 3,000 sledges, while grit sales had shot up by more than 1,200 per cent from last November. Sales of coal, logs and shovels had also more than tripled.



The forecast

Meteorologists warned more disruption was on the way. "Temperatures will struggle to get above freezing during the day in many parts this week," said Billy Payne, a forecaster with MeteoGroup. "Parts of England, such as the North-east, will suffer more snow showers. The cold may loosen its grip slightly by the weekend, but there will not be much respite. Snow will turn into sleet and rain by Friday."

Christmas tree shortage

Homeowners are being warned of potential shortages and soaring prices of Christmas trees after the arctic weather conditions blanketed prime areas of commercial tree-growing country in snow at a critical moment in the felling cycle.

Suppliers from Wales to northern Scotland have raised the alarm after heavy snowfalls left trees uncut and made remote forest roads impassable to lorries trying to bring those that have been felled to market.

There has also been a significant decline in the number of trees coming from traditional sources such as Denmark, where some companies have stopped producing them because of the withdrawal of EU subsidies.

Compounding the problem is Britain's growing love affair with the non-needle-dropping Nordmann Fir which has gone from nowhere to having 60 per cent of the 8.2 million UK market.

Growers are concerned retailers will hike their prices. Roger Hay, secretary of the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, has written to retailers asking them not to raise prices above last year's average of £40 for a 6ft tree.

Mr Hay said: "There are shortages of some trees already although the weekend after next will be crucial."

Jonathan Brown

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