The snow is clearing... now for the ice age
For most of Britain, a brief thaw is on its way – but roads are set to freeze over tomorrow as temperatures plummet again
Saturday 04 December 2010
Drivers and shoppers were told not to panic over feared shortages of fuel and food last night despite forecasters' predictions that arctic conditions would continue to grip the country for the whole of next week and beyond.
Although there will be a temporary easing today and a slight thaw, sub-zero temperatures and icy conditions are expected to return on Sunday, the Met Office said.
Downing Street said that while it could not guarantee that grit reserves would last, Britain was better stocked than at this time last year. Charities and the police, meanwhile, urged communities to look in on elderly or vulnerable neighbours during the cold spell after two pensioners were found dead in Cumbria.
Lillian Jenkinson, 80, is believed to have collapsed and frozen to death overnight in her back garden in Workington, while an unnamed man died in similar circumstances in Kirby Stephen.
A 57-year-old man who had stopped to help a stranded motorist was struck by a 4x4 vehicle and killed near Richmond, North Yorkshire.
Two teenage girls were killed in a road crash in Cumbria, with police claiming that treacherous road conditions appeared to be a factor in the collision.
Surrey Police said the anti-clockwise section of the M25 at Clacket Lane services was closed today after an articulated lorry collided with a passenger coach. It is not known if the weather conditions contributed to the accident at 2am.
Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, held an hour-long meeting with ministers and transport chiefs, where he was updated on the country's level of resilience, although the situation is not yet critical enough to convene the Cobra emergency committee. Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, said that anecdotal evidence of empty shelves did not mean there would be real shortages. "The fact remains that deliveries are happening regularly," she said.
Drivers were urged not to panic-buy petrol and diesel by the Retail Motor Industry Independent Petrol Retailers' Association, which appeared to tone down its earlier warning that supplies were low in some rural areas. "As long as everyone behaves as normal there will not be a problem," a spokeswoman said.
Tesco said all its distribution centres were working normally and it had no plans to introduce rationing.
But some supplies were clearly not getting through. Hauliers said that thousands of lorries had spent the last week parked up, losing the industry millions of pounds, while ports experienced problems unloading containers.
Britain was also told that it faced a potential shortage of brussels sprouts. Chris Gedney, managing director of TH Clements & Son, one of the UK's largest growers, said: "If the icy weather continues it's going to be very difficult for us to get our produce out."
But once again it was rail passengers who endured the worst of the weather's effects. Few of those stranded on platforms or carriages overnight will have welcomed Mr Hammond's indication yesterday that he was not planning to fine rail operators for their performance over recent days.
"I actually think it would be better if we get Network Rail, the train operators and the Met Office working together to see how we avoid the problem in future rather than who we fine," he told ITV's Daybreak.
Once again, on Friday around a third (28 per cent) of rail services failed to run, with only 53 per cent of those that did operate running on time. Commuter services in the South-east, East Yorkshire and Scotland – where 200 passengers spent five hours on Thursday evening stranded near Forgandenny, outside Perth – were the worst hit. Eurostar is also operating a reduced timetable until Sunday.
Gatwick airport reopened after 150,000 tonnes of snow was removed from runways and aprons. The South Terminal has become an impromptu dormitory for stranded travellers and it will be several days before scheduled services return to normal.
The weather is due to take its toll on sport, with a number of top matches at risk, including Manchester United's away fixture against Blackpool.
In Kent, officers said that a woman who dialled 999 to report the theft of a snowman from outside her house in Chatham was "completely irresponsible". Police said she thought it demanded investigation because she had used pound coins for the eyes and teaspoons for the arms. The woman told the emergency operator: "It ain't a nice road, but you don't expect anybody to nick your snowman."
Cold comforts: How they keep warm around the world
Sweden David Landes, Stockholm
Life doesn't stand still when winter comes. The biggest problem is people forgetting to switch over to snow tyres, which you have to do by law.
The airport in Stockholm usually keeps running. The rail infrastructure copes, although last year there were substantial problems, with lots of commuter train delays.
We don't have heated roads, but we do have some heated bus shelters. One of the dangers in a Swedish winter is icicles – every year someone is killed by a chunk of ice falling off a building.
Top tip: Long Johns. There is a saying in Sweden: "Det finns ingen dåligt väder, bara dålig kläder." It means: "There is no bad weather, only bad clothes." Wear thermal underwear and you can withstand anything. A nice hat and gloves help too.
Norway Dyveke Nilssen, Bergen
As a winter country we always laugh when snow brings London to a halt, but we're just as bad. Our first snow was in October. It was chaotic and the newspapers were saying things like: "Will we never learn?" The main problem was that it was so early and people hadn't changed to winter tyres. Motorists were queueing up outside tyre-fitting shops. Norway is quite a small country and we don't have the same public transport networks, so we are much more dependent on cars.
Heated pavements are common in the centre of the cities. One of the big problems is frozen pipes, and electricity prices always go up in winter. This is a bad winter – Bergen is usually not so cold but this year it is already -10C to -15C.
Top tip: Anything woolly. Wear wool close to the skin.
Russia Miriam Elder, Moscow
Everything swings into place at the first sign of winter – well, as much as anything can swing into place in Russia. The minute it snows, the trucks come out and clear the streets. There are never delays at the airports – you can take off in February in -40C – and the trains always run on time. Life goes on.
Lots of people die from icicle injuries every year. There was a scandal last year when municipal workmen were clearing icicles from the city buildings and throwing the ice into the street, and smashing car windscreens. Around 300 people freeze to death on the streets each year.
Top tip: Layering and shopping. I wear tights under jeans, T-shirts under sweaters, and I hop in and out of the shops so that I keep warm.
Canada Paul Rodgers, Winnipeg
Dog sleds, snow-shoes and cross-country skies are strictly for recreation in Winnipeg, though the city is snow-covered from early November to late April and temperatures routinely fall below -20C. The city is well prepared. Heavy snow brings convoys of ploughs on to major roads in the middle of the night. Lesser roads take a few days to clear, though drivers will still use them. Cars are plugged in overnight, as electric heaters stop the oil from freezing.
The worst Manitoba blizzard I experienced was in 1986, with 30cm of snow, 90km/h winds and zero visibility. Drifts rose to several metres and tracked armoured personnel carriers were used as ambulances.
Top tip: The first lesson Manitoba children learn about surviving winter is: "Don't lick anything metal; your tongue will stick."
Iceland Hjörvar Sæberg Högnason, Reykjavik
Winters in Iceland are milder now than when I was growing up. You used to be able to guarantee a white Christmas, but not now.
We still get snow from January to March, though, and councils in Reykjavik and surrounding towns work round the clock gritting and salting the streets. Reykjavik is heated geothermally, including many of the pavements and some of the roads if they are on a steep hill.
We go to "hot pots", which are like hot tubs and big enough for several people. I can think of about 10 or 11 in Reykjavik, for a population of about 150,000.
Top tip: Cod liver oil. And the woollen socks that my 86-year-old grandfather knits for me for Christmas.
United States David Usborne, New York
New York swings into action at the first sign of snow like a well-oiled machine. The instant that snow is forecast, there are snow chains on all the buses, and they put snow ploughs on all the garbage trucks to help clear the streets. The schools have a "snow day" notification system and commuter trains are rarely affected as they have overhead lines.
It's not all good. Midtown Manhattan can get very slushy and nasty and the wind whistles between the skyscrapers.
Top tip: Long Johns from L L Bean.
Afghanistan Julius Cavendish, based in Kabul
It's very difficult getting around in winter – it snows, then it melts and everything turns to mud, or ice. When you're trying to travel around, you get filthy. Afghan homes are heated with stoves, or bukhari. In poorer homes, there will be only one bukhari. Around 1,500 people die of exposure every year – not because of drinking, because they don't drink, but because there is nothing in the way of a welfare state and people have a low life expectancy of just 42. In the mountains it can get as low as -50C and even in Helmand, which is low-lying desert, it is below -20C at the moment.
Top tip: Make sure you get plenty to eat and drink.
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