Saturday, December 18

Britain Snowmageddon and Europe Snowpocalypse

The M25 comes to halt as snow causes travel chaos across the UK

Photo for The Telegraph: TOMMY HINDLEY

Here we go again, and it's not even 2011. This is the second big wave of snowstorms to hit northern Europe this month. See this December 2 Reuters report for a roundup on the earlier storms, which among other things toblanketed Paris and wreaked economic havoc.

As a Washingtonian who live-blogged through America's Snowmageddon 2010 which shut down the nation's capital for days, I'm not going to snicker at the plight of the British, who were waaay unprepared for the worst blizzards they've seen since 1981. And a Bronx cheer for one of those terribly irritating people who are always prepared; as cars by the thousands skidded around roads on Saturday he left a chipper comment at The Telegraph: "I drove from Germany to Calais yesterday and then through Kent to north London today. How was this possible? Winter tyres."

But as more blizzard conditions; what could be record-breaking cold temperatures; and widespread shortages in food, home heating fuel, and emergency blood supplies loom, there's not much Snowmageddon humor I can wring out the situation.

All this couldn't have come at a worse time; as much of Britain has ground to a halt Christmas holiday travelers have been stranded all over Europe and retailers are missing out on what is supposed to be the best week for sales. And that's just in the United Kingdom; many parts of northern Europe are also battling the heavy snows:
Snow causes pre-Christmas travel chaos in Europe

Dec 18, 2010 4:36 am EST

(Reuters) - Heavy snow and freezing temperatures caused travel chaos across northern Europe on Friday, with hundreds of German flights cancelled and icy roads wreaking havoc in Poland and the Netherlands ahead of Christmas.

A spokesman for Frankfurt airport operator Fraport said 400 of 1,400 scheduled flights had been cancelled at continental Europe's busiest airport, even though Germany's financial capital escaped the worst of the winter weather.

Another 100 flights were cancelled in Berlin, which was blanketed in heavy snow throughout the day, leaving city workers scrambling to clear roads and slowing traffic to a crawl in some parts.

In neighbouring Poland, where severe frost has killed 93 people so far this winter, a blast of cold and new train timetables combined to cause chaos on the rail network.

Days of disruption have led to calls by opposition politicians for the dismissal of Infrastructure Minister Cezary Grabarczyk, who apologised in parliament on Friday for the inconvenience suffered by passengers.
In the Netherlands, highways became covered in ice, two tunnels were closed due to ice and an accident, and 500 km (300 miles) of traffic jams formed, the Dutch transport group ANWB said on its Twitter feed.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport said dozens of flights had been cancelled and public transport in Dutch cities was sharply reduced.
Now onto Britain:
Britain gridlocked after heavy snow brings travel chaos

Blizzard conditions left Britain gridlocked as major airports closed, roads became impassable and train services were cancelled on what should have been the busiest weekend before Christmas.

By Patrick Sawer, Robert Mendick, David Barrett and Alistair Jamieson
9:00PM GMT 18 Dec 2010
The Telegraph

The heaviest December snowfalls since 1981 crippled swathes of the country's transport network.

Planes were grounded at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports for much of yesterday, with regional airports across the country also severely affected by ice and snow.

Millions of people who had been planning to visit the shops or their families ahead of the Christmas break, were left unable to reach their destinations or forced to abandon their journeys entirely.

There was heavy snow across much of south and south west England, the south Midlands, Merseyside, Northern Ireland and Scotland yesterday and Friday night.

The north west, Devon and Sussex were hit with up to 11in of snow, causing widespread disruption and accidents on major roads and motorways. Only East Anglia, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire escaped unscathed.

Forecasters warned that Britain was heading for the coldest December on record, with a current average temperature of minus 0.7C – five degrees below the long-term average.

The Met Office warned of more snow on Sunday and Monday, particularly in north east England and northern Scotland.

Britain's airport operators were heavily criticised after Heathrow and Gatwick closed their runways after failing to keep them clear of ice and snow.

BAA, which owns Heathrow and Stansted, was forced to shut both runways at Heathrow at about 1pm yesterday following a blizzard that lasted two hours.

The runways remained closed on Saturday afternoon and passengers were told to go home or to stay in hotels. In total 577 flights in and out of Heathrow were cancelled.

Gatwick managed to clear its runway by 3pm, though most flights were cancelled.

British Airways took a decision on Friday evening to cancel all its flights from Heathrow and Gatwick from 10am yesterday.

That left BA passengers furious that they were unable to travel while others on rival airlines were – in some cases at least – able to fly at points when the runways were still open.

There was also disruption at Southampton, Manchester, Exeter, London City, Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff airports.

At the same time many of Britain's major roads were gridlocked as heavy snow caught drivers by surprise.

The M25 was blocked in at least two locations for periods yesterday and the M20 in Kent was closed for more than two hours after a five vehicle pile-up.

Stuart Woodhead, a 37-year-old computer programmer, was driving back from Coventry to his home near Slough when he was trapped in the "bowl" between Junctions 16 and 18 on the M25, where traffic came to a standstill.

"Traffic officers are digging people out of the snow," he said.

Other roads suffering serious delays included the M4 in Berkshire and London, the M40 in Buckinghamshire, the northern section of the M3, the M2 in Kent, the southern M11 in Essex, and the A1M in Hertfordshire.

Hundreds of drivers were stranded on the M6 in Lancashire for up to seven hours on Friday night after a lorry jackknifed on the northbound carriageway and heavy snow later brought southbound traffic to a standstill.

With many roads in a treacherous state there were warnings of fuel and food shortages in some parts of the country.

Brian Madderson, chairman of the Independent Petrol Retailers Association, said forecourts in snow-hit areas were already running low, exacerbated by a backlog from the snow chaos earlier this month.

He said: "We are close to a critical point. Our members are doing all they can to prevent a weather crisis becoming a fuel crisis.

"There is evidence of localised panic buying and we would urge motorists only to fill up only what they need."

Brent Cross shopping centre in North London was forced to close because of the weather.

Blood stocks are also running low, with the NHS Blood and Transplant service revealing last night that it has just three days supply after donor sessions were cancelled due to the weather.

The AA said it expected to attend around 18,000 call-outs, compared to around 9,000 on an average Saturday.

Darron Burness, head of AA special operations, said driving conditions were "extremely difficult" in some regions.

"One of the biggest problems is that large amounts of snow are falling very quickly on to frozen surfaces, making driving hazardous," he added.

Lincolnshire County Council said it had already used about 60 per cent of its grit stocks despite starting the winter with 31,600 tonnes – 8,000 more than usual.

Meanwhile nearly a quarter of all train services suffered delays and cancellations, with operators in the south, including Southeastern and Southern Railway, struggling to keep ice from forming on the 'third' rail, which transmits power to the electric trains. Further disruption was expected on Sunday.

However other train companies managed to run a normal Saturday service on most mainline services after spending Friday night clearing snow off lines and points.

Sport also suffered from disruption, with a number of race meetings and dozens of football and rugby matches cancelled.

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