Travel warning as freeze gets worse

Motorists beware - much of Britain's road network may resemble a skating rink today as the most widespread snowfall for nearly seven years freezes and turns to ice.

Motorists beware - much of Britain's road network may resemble a skating rink today as the most widespread snowfall for nearly seven years freezes and turns to ice.

After a day that saw traffic accidents in their hundreds on everything from motorways to country lanes, police and motoring organisations were last night warning drivers to venture out only if the journey is absolutely necessary. Drivers should try to stick to major roads that are more likely to have been gritted, they said.

This week's snowfalls have blanketed the whole of Britain, from northern Scotland to the West Country - the first time this has happened since February 1994. Yesterday the weather brought severe disruption to road, rail and air services. Several airports were closed for hours, including Glasgow and all three airports in Northern Ireland.

But today promises to be even more tricky for drivers as snow that melted in yesterday's intermittent sunshine freezes. Temperatures last night were expected to fall to minus 5C in England and minus 10C in Scotland. Although the heavy snowfall has gone for now, and only showers are expected today, it will be bitterly cold. Black ice, the near-invisible glazing of road surfaces, is likely to be a serious hazard.

Joanne Webb of AA Roadwatch said last night: "The whole country is suffering with snow, slush or icy conditions. Nowhere is clearing completely. We expect it to be bad for drivers again in the morning, so speeds should be kept down. Don't let other drivers going faster lull you into a false sense of security."

Many motorways had speed restrictions or lane closures yesterday, and several A-roads were closed. "Drivers should try to stay on major roads which will have been gritted," Ms Webb said.

Yesterday's snow was the first extensive fall for years in a country that is starting to forget what winter can bring as the weather gets warmer, a phenomenon scientists are linking to global climate change. This was the heaviest snow in London since 1994, and the heaviest since 1991 in parts of the Home Counties, with up to four inches in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Six inches fell in Wales, seven inches in Northern Ireland and more than a foot in parts of Scotland.

The fall gave thousands of young children their first chance to play in snow, although those who could go tobogganing were lucky - it is getting harder to find a sledge. Hamley's in London, the world's biggest toy store, stopped selling them for the first time last winter because of lack of demand. But snowballs and snowmen were in evidence everywhere.

* A woman was arrested and charged yesterday with causing criminal damage to a plastic snowman. She was held after allegedly attacking the Christmas decoration outside a private house in Bridgwater, Somerset. A 29-year-old woman will appear before Sedgemoor magistrates in Somerset on 4 January. The incident occurred at midnight on Wednesday.

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