Easter snow brings beauty – and chaos

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The Independent Online

The building of snowmen replaced the traditional activity of egg hunting in many households yesterday as Britons woke up to their first white Easter in 10 years.

Severe weather warnings were issued by the Met Office as bitter winds and snow showers hit Scotland early yesterday, before sweeping through England as far south as East Anglia. Parts of the North-east, Yorkshire and Staffordshire were among the worst affected, with some areas experiencing almost four inches of snow.

The weather brought with it widespread travel disruption, and motorists were warned not to drive their cars unless absolutely necessary. North Yorkshire police described the conditions as "horrendous", and minor accidents caused by icy roads were reported all over the country.

But the worst might not be over. Traffic pressure is expected to surge today as millions drive back from their weekend breaks. This year's post-Easter return will be urgent for many families as most children are due to start back at school tomorrow because Easter has fallen earlier than usual. The RAC warned that the sheer number of vehicles on the roads could cause significant problems.

"Around 16 million people will have set off from Maundy Thursday through to Easter Sunday," said a spokesman. "Now there's a deadline to be met, so many of these millions will be heading home."

The problems on the roads may be exacerbated by the closure for engineering works of long stretches of the rail network, including the East and West Coast Main Lines. The millions who do travel today will be hoping against a repeat of yesterday's atrocious weather.

In Cumbria, police closed the A66 and called in snowploughs after a number of lorries became stuck in the treacherous conditions. North West Ambulance Service also appealed for members of the public to dial 999 "only in an emergency", after two of its vehicles fell foul of the heavy snow and had to be rescued. And in the Lake District, three men had to be rescued after running into difficulties on their Easter excursion up the 978-metre Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England.

In Yorkshire, Leeds Bradford airport was brought to a standstill, with no aircraft able to take off or land. Police advised motorists to stay off the roads. "The snow came down suddenly," said a spokesman for North Yorkshire police. "I drove six miles to work this morning and it was the worst I can remember for a long time."

The bad weather also caused problems in the North-east, as strong winds and snow lashed the coast and added to the congestion.

But according to the Met Office, the snow is likely to be short-lived."Although some parts of the East Midlands and Lincolnshire got 10 centimetres [four inches], most of it is already melting," a spokesman said yesterday. "It will be frosty again overnight, but it's March now so the sun is fairly strong."

According to forecasters, the UK is always more likely to experience a white Easter than a white Christmas, and this year it was particularly likely as the festival fell on the earliest date since 1913, and just one day after the official start of spring.

The last time snow fell on Easter Day was on 12 April 1998, but the whitest Easter on record came in April 1983, when around four inches fell in Scotland, the Midlands and Kent. The unpredictability of the season was confirmed when a very different record was broken the following year, as temperatures climbed above 20C (68F).