UK weather: Heavy snow and strong winds cause travel chaos for thousands as cars and vans are completely buried

Winter storms believed to have already claimed the life of one woman

Britain awoke to treacherous weather today as freezing temperatures and fresh snowfall caused travel chaos.

Police in Cumbria advised motorists not to travel unless absolutely necessary after search and rescue teams deployed special vehicles to help more than 70 stranded drivers. They were forced to stay in Millom High School, Copeland, overnight, as snowdrifts wreaked havoc on the roads.

Cars, trucks and vans were completely buried under the snow in the blizzard conditions.

The Met Office issued a level 3 cold weather alert for the weekend, saying the bitter weather could increase the health risks to vulnerable patients.

Forecasters warned that this month could be the coldest March in 50 years, with the mercury struggling to inch above zero across swathes of the country.

More than two inches of snow is expected to accumulate in many parts of the UK, and the Met Office has posted severe weather warnings for snow for the east coast of Scotland, north Wales, the entirety of Northern Ireland and all but the South West of England.

The South West is beset by its own weather problems, with 11 Environment Agency flood warnings issued in the region after heavy downpours.

A landslide and floodwater in Cornwall, thought to have been triggered by torrential rain, smashed through a block of flats partially collapsing the building.

Last night emergency crews and specialist investigators found a woman's body after picking through debris at the Veronica flats in Looe.

The body is believed to be that of Susan Norman, who is in her 60s and police said was unaccounted for, having not been heard from since returning to the flat on Thursday night.

In North Wales, hospital staff, paramedics and renal patients were taken to hospitals by British Red Cross volunteers in 4x4 vehicles.

David Hallows, service manager for emergency response for the Red Cross in North Wales, said: “I've never seen snow like it. It's a metre thick in places and it's not drifting. I just can't believe it.”

There was also disappointment for football fans, as Northern Ireland's football World Cup qualifier with Russia was called off because of bad weather. Around 35,000 homes in Northern Ireland remain without power and emergency crews are struggling through six foot high snow drifts following blizzard conditions over the last 24 hours.

Runway operations at East Midlands Airport were suspended this morning. Staff are working hard to clear the snow, but fresh snow is falling as fast as they are able to remove it.

Chris Hogan, a forecaster for MeteoGroup, warned that the freezing weather will feel even colder due to the bitter winds, adding: “There is no sign of any warmer weather coming through yet.”

He continued: “London will mark the border of rain and snow, with everywhere north looking at a covering of snow and around 6cm in the Midlands, Wales, north England and southern Scotland.

So far this month, the average March temperature in central England is a biting 3.8C, compared to 8.3C last year.