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Easter break getaway turned to misery by Storm Nelson and railway works

Bank holiday weekend spoilt for many with high winds and flooding disrupting train and ferry services, as millions take to the road

Jane Dalton
Thursday 28 March 2024 21:42 GMT
UK weather: The latest Met Office forecast

The great Easter getaway has led to misery for thousands of holidaymakers and travellers as storms and engineering work combined to cause havoc to journeys on the roads, railways, ferries and planes.

On Thursday, Storm Nelson brought winds up to 74mph, leaving planes unable to land, and train and ferry services cancelled.

Snow fell in parts of southwest England and Wales, and temperatures dropped to lows of -1.2C in west Devon.

A family kits up in plastic raincoats in central London (EPA)

Yellow warnings for rain and strong winds, signalling transport disruption, were also issued for the south of England and Northern Ireland.

The travel chaos has been worse this Easter than in most years because the break fell close to the date of most schools breaking up, meaning more families were planning to get away.

The extreme weather forced some attractions to close as rain, sleet and hill snow spread north and eastwards.

In London, Kew Gardens closed early because of the wind and rain, along with areas of Bushy Park and Kensington Gardens. Dartmoor Zoo in Devon also shut, as well as some National Trust sites, including Mottisfont estate in Hampshire.

Large waves crash over the harbour wall as Storm Nelson hits Newhaven, Sussex (Reuters)

On one of the busiest travel days of the year, flooding in the west of England forced Great Western Railway to close various lines, including the main line from London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads.

Between Swindon and Chippenham trains had to “take turns” to use the one available track.

There were also delays and cancellations between Swindon and Bristol Parkway, Westbury and Weymouth and Reading and Taunton.

Afternoon rush hour and bank holiday traffic on the M6 through Cheshire (Getty Images)

Rail passengers had been warned to travel either side of the Easter weekend as London Euston was due to close for the entire weekend to allow improvement works on tracks.

On Sunday morning, the main line west of the capital will be disrupted because of emergency engineering work.

Drivers were warned of huge traffic delays as an estimated 14 million car journeys were set to be made this bank holiday weekend. The RAC warned that car journeys could take up to twice as long as usual.

A visitor to London turns bad weather into a photo oportunity (EPA)

“With Easter falling earlier than usual at the start of the school holidays, it could be ‘carmageddon’ for holidaymakers,” a spokesperson said.

Parts of the M25 London orbital, the M5 southbound and the M3 between the M25 and the south coast faced congestion.

Around 20,000 cars were expected to travel through Dover between Thursday and Easter Monday.

But strong winds forced ferries to be cancelled or delayed. Ferry operator DFDS called off some services from Dover to Calais, and Dieppe to Newhaven on Thursday.

The Port of Dover warned passengers that the Channel was “rough with a strong southeasterly breeze, force six” – which is not far off gale-force.

Storm Nelson reaches Brighton beach (Getty Images)

Flights were also delayed as planes struggled to land.

Dramatic footage showed an EasyJet flight wobble on the runway before aborting a landing at Gatwick Airport. It landed successfully 10 minutes later.

The Met Office recorded a top wind speed of 74mph at Berry Head, Devon. Forecasters extended a wind warning to cover the whole of the south coast from Cornwall to Kent and up to Suffolk, with strong gusts until midnight.

The Met Office warned there was a “small chance” of injuries and risk to life from the strong winds and large waves, as well as possible hail and thunder.

A family make use of the spring snow on Dartmoor to go sledging (Matt Keeble/PA Wire)

Oli Claydon, of the Met Office, said: “The weather story now really turns into an area of low pressure that’s going to bring some very strong wind and rain.”

The coming days were predicted to be chilly and drizzly but “bright and breezy”, with temperatures up to 15C in west London and 14C in Manchester on Sunday, which is typical for the time of year.

More than 600 Border Force officers at Heathrow are set to walk out for four days from 11 April – potentially causing chaos as families return from their Easter holidays.

The strike by members of the PSC Union has been timed to hit the busiest days for arrivals at the UK’s biggest airport.

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