Arctic conditions paralyse Northern Ireland as fresh blizzards sweep in
Northern Ireland has been left reeling following the worst snowfall for 25 years which has disrupted schools, health services and businesses.
Up to 25cm of snow fell in some areas yesterday causing travel chaos.
One of the biggest casualties is likely to be the retail sector which should be enjoying its busiest weekend of the year with just days to go until Christmas.
Instead it is estimated that the big freeze could cost the local retail economy £10m this weekend.
Economist John Simpson said this could be disastrous for many local shops which rely on the Christmas market.
He said: “My calculations suggest that the cost of this weekend could be over £10m in terms of turnover deferred, deflected or that which won’t take place.
“The bad weather reduces the ability of people to go out and this will have a serious impact on turnover in shops.”
Over 700 schools were forced to close their doors yesterday due to the bleak conditions, while all three of the province’s airports were shut and flights suspended as many parts of the province ground to a halt.
However, the Roads Service managed to keep all of Northern Ireland’s main roads open following an extensive gritting programme which began on Thursday afternoon.
But there are warnings of more snow to come. Last night the Met Office issued an emergency flash warning for heavy snow for counties Antrim, Down and Londonderry. Flash warnings are only issued in exceptional circumstances.
The Met Office said further “very heavy snow” was likely “giving additional accumulations of 10-20cm in many places”.
Temperatures were expected to fall to as low as -10C in some areas overnight.
Police reported widespread disruption on the roads last night. The Coleraine Road to Limavady was closed for much of the evening.
Dungannon town centre was at a complete standstill by 6pm. Omagh, Enniskillen and Cookstown were described as precarious. The Castledawson roundabout was gridlocked. In Lisburn the A1 and the Moira Road was described as treacherous.
Drivers were also warned of widespread black ice across the province. Police urged motorists to only travel if completely necessary.
There were no flights at Belfast International Airport yesterday. Belfast City Airport managed to open for a short time over lunch before flights were again suspected and City of Derry Airport closed for the whole day.
Ciaran Rogan of Translink said most bus services were running but some were experiencing extreme difficulties with delays of up to an hour. The Belfast to Londonderry train service was also delayed.
Health was also hit as the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service cancelled ambulance transport for most non-emergency appointments with priority given to patients with appointments for renal and cancer services.
Prison visits and driving tests were also cancelled as the severe weather spread across the province.
A gritter driver suffered cuts to the face when his window was smashed by stone-throwing yobs in Co Derry.
In Glenavy, Co Antrim, a gritter came off the road on Thursday night.
Roads Service said that the driver was tended to at the scene by ambulance personnel and the police. He was shaken but not injured.