Belfast Telegraph

Blizzards and dropping temperatures wreak havoc as Northern Ireland motorists urged to take care amid perilous weather conditions

Fleet of 120 gritters on standby as motorists urged to take care amid perilous driving conditions

By Linda Stewart and Lindsay Fergus

As Northern Ireland woke up to up to 15cms of snow, a severe weather warning for the country remains in place.

Although 120 gritters were on standby last night in an effort to keep the main roads and bus routes open, police warned of treacherous driving conditions.

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Motorists have been warned of sudden snow accumulations caused by drifting, especially over the higher ground routes in the Glens of Antrim around Ballymoney.

"TransportNI has 300 staff and around 120 gritters on standby to salt main roads to help drivers to cope with wintry conditions," a spokesman for the agency said. "However, motorists and public transport users should keep an eye on the forecast and be prepared for disruption to their daily commute, allowing plenty of time when planning a journey."

The snowy conditions have forced school closures including St Teresa's Nursery School at Bearnagh Glen in west Belfast.

Northern Ireland Electricity has advised that homes could be left without power, particularly in exposed locations or higher ground, because of the combination of snow and ice forming on the power lines and strong winds. Anyone who loses supply should contact NIE's helpline on 03457 643 643, or report the fault online at nie.co.uk. Regular updates will also be posted on Twitter @NIElectricity.

The Met Office last night advised that the amber alert - issued yesterday morning - would remain in place today.

It said that as a colder airstream with sleet and snow showers spread south-east, snow amounts would be variable but over 5cm would accumulate at lower levels in places, with more than 15cm on higher ground.

"Strong and gusty winds will lead to drifting and blizzard conditions at times, especially over higher routes," the Met Office said. "The showers will become a little less frequent from the north-west during Thursday with more of a mix of rain, sleet and snow."

Tony Baker, the Met Office meteorologist who is currently embedded with TransportNI, warned of possible disruption to rush-hour traffic this morning.

He said higher parts of the Sperrins and Antrim Hills could see more than 15cm of snow.

"Accumulations will slowly build up overnight but as always, some places will see more snow than others, with some places inevitably seeing only small amounts," he said. "With gusty winds of 40-50mph around showers, some drifting of snow is likely at higher levels.

"The public should be prepared for possible travel disruption and keep up to date with the latest Met Office forecasts and warnings at http://www.met office.gov.uk during this wintry spell."

The B27 Moyad Road over Spelga had to be closed because of difficult driving conditions.

Darron Burness, head of the AA's severe weather team, said: "Gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe driving on snow and ice, and leave a much bigger gap between you and the vehicle in front. The wind will make it feel bitterly cold, so at the very least take lots of warm layers, fully-charged mobile, road atlas, and make sure your car has at least a quarter of a tank of fuel in case of unexpected delays."

And there is more snow on the way. Leon Brown of The Weather Channel said the latest forecasts brought another risk of snow moving southwards on Monday to Tuesday of next week, and perhaps again over the west on Wednesday to Thursday.

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