Winter is upon us

It's been one of the milder Januarys. But the elements saved their worst for the last day of the month
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The Independent Online

Winter weather kicked in with a vengeance yesterday as icy gales and rain whipped the country and forecasters warned of blizzards today.

A lorry driver aged 45 was killed when his heavy goods vehicle was blown over on the M6, near junction 44 in Cumbria. Eight other vehicles were overturned by high winds on the same stretch of the motorway, the Highways Agency said.

In Scotland, drivers had to contend with gusts of up to 80mph. High-sided vehicles, caravans and motorcycles were banned from the Forth Bridge Road, west of Edinburgh, after a lorry was overturned. All northbound traffic was brought to a standstill, and the northboundsection had to be closed.

In Wales, the Severn Bridge, the Cleddau Bridge in Pembrokeshire and the Britannia Bridge in north Wales were closed to high-sided vehicles. Power failures left more than 1,000 homes without electricity, and forced schools to close. Homes in Gwynedd were blacked out because of the winds.

In England, the Port of Dover was closed to shipping as winds in the Channel gusted up to 60mph and forecasters warned of a force 10 gale. The Met Office issued a severe-weather warning for many regions. Snow is expected across much of the country today, with up to 20cm predicted in northern areas and up to 5cm in the south.

A rescue operation was under way last night after a passenger ferry got into difficulties in high winds in the Irish Sea. Three helicopters were scrambled to airlift 23 people from the Riverdance, 10 nautical miles off Lancashire. By 11pm 14 people had been airlifted to safety while 19 crew remained on board and were trying to start the ship's engines. There were no reports of injuries.

Helen Chivers, from the Met Office, said: "We've had a cold front moving across the UK from the northwest and can expect sleet and snow showers." She added that all parts of Britain should expect some snow today. "Scotland, Northern Ireland and North Wales will have heavy snow showers first, and by the afternoon these will spread southwards to most of England and Wales."