Britain still in Arctic grip

Parts of Britain were as cold as a domestic freezer today as the big chill tightened its grip.

Parts of Britain were as cold as a domestic freezer today as the big chill tightened its grip.

Temperatures plunged as low as minus 17.7C (0.14F) in places as England endured its coldest night this winter to cause another round of disruption.

Yesterday’s heavy snow iced over, creating havoc on the roads, trains and at airports – and shutting hundreds more schools for another day.

Forecasters warned of icy roads and treacherous travel conditions across virtually the whole country – and no let-up yet in the Arctic conditions.

Rachel Vince, senior forecaster with MeteoGroup, said parts of Greater Manchester and Oxfordshire were worst hit.

She said: “Many places across the UK experienced lows of minus 10C (14F) - no-one escaped the freeze last night.

“There’s no end in sight to the cold weather at the moment. It is going to be like this for a good few days yet.”

Benson in Oxfordshire was one of the UK’s coldest spots, plunging to minus 17.7C – 0.7C lower than some manufacturers recommend for freezing food at home.

Woodford, Greater Manchester, also saw the mercury plunge to minus 17.6C (0.32F), with Glasgow seeing minus 9C (15.8F) and even central London falling to minus 3C (26.6F).

There were some small signs of respite today, with no extreme weather warnings for the first time in two days, all UK airports open and train operators putting on more services for hard-pressed travellers.

But budget airline easyJet has already cancelled around 70 flights due in and out of Gatwick, despite the airport opening its runway last night.

And British Airways said it had cancelled a number of flights and was experiencing delays due to icy conditions at both Heathrow and Gatwick.

Luton, Birmingham, Stansted, Cardiff and Southampton Airports were also open after being forced to close yesterday, with all advising travellers of disruption and to check with their airlines.

On the railways, South West Trains was hoping to run a normal service today after its routes were hit by delays and cancellations yesterday.

Chiltern Railways was also planning near-normal operations, along with Virgin Trains.

Among the latest round of mass school closures were more than 300 in Hertfordshire, several hundred in Hampshire and all but one in St Helens.

More than 500 schools were said to be shut in Wales, along with hundreds of others in Warrington, Cheshire and Gloucestershire.

More of the UK’s major roads were more passable today, although forecasters warned that drivers faced dangerous icy conditions on untreated routes.

Several police forces including Devon and Cornwall, Kent and Lothian and Borders were urging drivers not to travel unless absolutely necessary.

A section of the A66 in Cumbria remained shut and sections of other roads which were closed included the A1(M) in County Durham and the A628 in Derbyshire.

A crisis was averted in West Berkshire when 300 tonnes of grit were sourced from a neighbouring council, meaning that more than 400 miles of roads could be covered overnight.

It had initially been feared that last night’s gritting operation on A and B roads would be the last until the grit suppliers made a delivery.

Yesterday scores of roads were closed and train journeys cancelled after the heaviest snow in years fell – leaving town centres deserted as people opted to stay at home.

The disruption is estimated to have cost businesses around £700m (€778m) alone, with much more financial damage to come as the country struggles to get back to normal.

Up to 5,000 homes in Sussex, Kent and Surrey were also without electricity last night after heavy snow affected power lines.

Many councils warned that their stocks of grit were running low, with Scarborough Borough Council in North Yorkshire revealing that it was using sand from the resort’s beach to grit pavements in the town.

Emergency measures to alleviate the gritting crisis were put forward to allow Britain’s biggest salt mine to supply the country day and night.

Local councillors said they would look favourably on suspending planning restrictions limiting lorry movements to and from Winsford’s salt mine in Cheshire.

The emergency services dealt with a number of major incidents, including a group of elderly people who had to be rescued after being snowed in at the All Saints Day Centre in Uplands, Stroud, Gloucestershire, for more than 24 hours.

In Nottinghamshire, an eight-year-old boy had to be airlifted to hospital for a kidney transplant after getting stuck because of the freezing weather, while a double-decker bus skidded off the road in icy conditions in north west London and crashed into a doctor’s surgery.

A spokeswoman for London Ambulance Service said no-one was hurt in the incident in Chamberlayne Road, Willesden.

Health services were also stretched, with all operations deemed to be “non-urgent” cancelled at hospitals in Oxford.

South East Coast Ambulance Service warned it would have problems reaching those with minor injuries.

National Grid, which issued only its second ever gas balancing alert (GBA) on Monday after a 30% surge in seasonal demand, did not repeat the warning yesterday.

But Britons look set to face record fuel bills for January as they turn up their heating to cope with the cold snap, comparison website energyhelpline.com said.

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