Drivers bear brunt of misery in parting shot from winter weather relaxes grip

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Snowstorms left two motorists dead and hundreds trapped yesterday as freezing weather continued to affect eastern Britain.

Icy conditions caused dozens of road accidents, while airports were forced to divert flights as runways became blanketed in snow.

But the disruption caused over the past few days looks likely to ease over the weekend, with temperatures expected to rise as the snow gives way to rain.

In east Yorkshire, a 46-year-old man from Driffield died after crashing into a lorry on the A164 while apparently attempting to avoid a snow drift . Elsewhere in the region, firefighters helped dig out about 200 cars marooned after strong winds caused snow drifts. Police used 4x4 vehicles to reach stranded drivers on the A1079 near Market Weighton, providing hot drinks as the rescue operation continued.

In Scotland , a woman was killed and four passengers injured after a four-car pile-up at Torness, East Lothian, which had received heavy snowfall the previous evening. Several passengers were trapped in their vehicles after the crash and had to be freed by firefighters.

Two flights at Newcastle airport had to be cancelled yesterday morning and six domestic and international flights were delayed. A team of workers worked to clear snow and de-ice the runway. At Stansted in Essex the runway was temporarily shut; Luton airport was also badly affected.

Despite a forecast improvement in the weather, police continued to urge people not to drive unless journeys were "absolutely essential". In Kent, there was rush-hour traffic chaos as heavy snow brought traffic to a crawl around Dartford, Canterbury and Ashford.

Problems eased later in the day as rain spread from the west, but drivers still had to contend with poor visibility caused by spray.

By late yesterday afternoon, the only snow falling was over parts of Norfolk and Suffolk, with the earlier heavy snowfalls over the North-east moving over the North Sea. Forecasters said the majority of snow left on the ground would begin thawing overnight and continue throughout the day, as temperatures rose.

The Highways Agency said rain would be the main problem in the South-west and South-east as the snow cleared away, while the Midlands would also see rain. Forecasters said a belt of tropical air in from the Atlantic was behind the change to rainy conditions.

Despite freezing conditions this week, average temperatures for December fell just half a degree below the norm, with 2005 being among the hottest five years since records began. Rainfall in parts of the South-east was the lowest since 1921.

* The severe weather also afffected much of northern Europe with snow and ice leaving drivers stranded and causing many crashes. Two Britons were killed in a crash at Lille, northern France.