Bookies slash odds on coldest-ever January

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The Independent Online

Freezing weather looks set to grip Britain for at least another week, forecasters said yesterday as road and rail networks struggled to function.

Freezing weather looks set to grip the UK for at least another week, forecasters said today, as the road and rail networks struggled to function in icy temperatures.

Commuters endured disruption as they returned to work and thousands of school children enjoyed an extra day off due to the weather.

Grit stocks in England are holding up according to the Highways Agency but Fife council in Scotland warned yesterday that its salt supply was "critically low".

A Highways Agency spokesman said: "We have sufficient salt stocks available for treatment of the strategic road network.

"Our fleet of salt spreaders and snow ploughs has been working flat out to keep our roads safe and serviceable for use. We will continue to treat the roads for as the long as the cold weather continues."

He warned drivers to take extra care and to check travel advice before setting out.

After a freezing night during which temperatures dipped to minus 12C (10F) in places, a series of accidents led to jams today on major road routes, particularly in the West Midlands.

A vehicle fire closed a section of the M6 in Warwickshire and part of the nearby M42 was also shut, as was the M6 Toll slip road to the southbound M6 in the West Midlands.

An accident closed a section of the A38 in Staffordshire, while broken down vehicles led to congestion on the A2 in Kent, the M1 in Leicestershire and the M5 in the West Midlands.

Over-running rail engineering works caused 60-minute rush-hour delays to trains in and out of London's Liverpool Street station.

And on London Underground there were part-suspensions on the District and Hammersmith and City lines due to signal failures.

Even the fountains in Trafalgar Square iced over in the sub-zero temperatures.

Elsewhere Merseyrail services were delayed by up to 30 minutes and rail passengers were hit by poor weather in Scotland which led to delays between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Buses replaced trains between Ormskirk and Preston and between Boston and Skegness in Lincolnshire, while a signalling problem near Dagenham Dock in Essex led to delays on services to and from Fenchurch Street station in London.

Temperatures in central London were only expected to reach 2C (36F) today with the top temperatures for the whole of the UK likely to be only 4C (39F) - in Cornwall.

Bookmaker Paddy Power cut the odds on this being the coldest January on record from 5/1 to 7/4.

Brendan Jones, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "We're getting winds from the north and the east at the moment and this is bringing in cold air from the Arctic and or Scandinavia.

"It's going to stay pretty chilly for the next few days. There are going to be frosts overnight and day-time temperatures are going to struggle to get above freezing.

"It looks like this cold weather is going to be with us for a while. It's likely to continue for at least a week."

By 8am, the AA had already attended about 6,000 breakdowns since midnight. This is about two and half times more than the AA would attend on a normal Monday, with today likely to be the busiest 24 hours ever, with the organisation likely to attend more than 25,000 breakdowns by the end of the day.

The previous busiest day during the current cold spell was on December 21 when the AA had its busiest day for 10 years, attending about 22,000 breakdowns.

The AA said a fortnight of freezing temperatures had left thousands of cars stranded on drives with flat batteries and frozen engines. Its patrol teams reported many accidents on slippery roads.

The Highways Agency reported heavy traffic on many routes including the A21 in East Sussex, the A12 in Essex, the M60 in Greater Manchester, the A2 in Kent, the A38 in Devon, the M27 in Hampshire and the A52 in Derbyshire.

The AA warned that the roads were likely to be busier tomorrow when worsening weather conditions combined with the return to school in many areas.