Belfast Telegraph

Big freeze bites ... and there's more snow on the way

By Michelle Weir

Icy conditions on Northern Ireland's roads are set to continue today with a yellow weather warning in place until 6pm.

The Met Office is warning of wintry showers in the north with freezing temperatures reaching a maximum of only 4°C in what has been described as one of the coldest Decembers in recent years.

And the icy snap is set to continue tomorrow, particularly in the southern parts of the province where snow will remain likely to keep falling.

Met Office forecaster John Wylie indicated that last night's temperatures were expected to dip to as low as -4°C inland, accompanied by a sharp frost.

He noted that such cold December temperatures have not been recorded in recent years.

"There has not been cold weather like this for a couple of years now. It is the first proper wintry spell, where there has been widespread snow, for the past two or three years."

He advised motorists to allow extra time for their journey and to clear vehicles of snow before departure.

While the snow caused excitement for many yesterday morning, it led to a major slow-down on the roads, reducing traffic to a crawl on some major routes.

Black ice under snow made roads dangerous with a number of vehicles losing control. There was report of a vehicle on its roof on the M2 yesterday morning.

Among the worst affected areas were Nutts Corner and Dundrod in Co Antrim where there were reports of lorries and cars spinning at Quarterland Road.

Four cars were involved in a collision at Donaghys Lane in Larne, near the junction with Antiville Road, around 8am, and an accident on the A26 Frosses road in north Antrim near Cloughmills resulted long tailbacks for Ballymena-bound traffic.

The Glenshane Pass in Co Londonderry was described as "passable with care".

Major disruption to buses was reported by Translink on services across Northern Ireland, with passengers on Belfast's Metro bus services experiencing "heavy delays".

The town service was cancelled in Carrickfergus and only operated on main roads in Lisburn and Antrim. There was also disruption to rural bus services in Larne, Armagh and Strabane with "numerous cancellations" in Ballycastle which was "very badly affected" by icy conditions.

Dozens of schools were closed or shut early across the province in what was the third closure due to severe weather conditions since the start of this academic year.

School transport provision was also reduced.

All ferry sailings between Rathlin Island and Ballycastle were cancelled due to the weather conditions, and there was disruption to flights at Belfast International and George Best Belfast City airports.

Belfast City Airport apologised to travellers when a de-icing machine broke down, leading to flight delays.

Belfast International Airport deployed snow clearance teams operating gritters, de-icing sprayers, snow ploughs and sweepers to keep the main runway and taxi ways functioning, and a ground handling contractor de-iced aircraft prior to their departure.

Operational teams at the City of Derry Airport worked to ensure the runway and airfield were "promptly cleared" of snow and flights were able to operate normally yesterday morning.

East Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA John Stewart said he has raised concerns about the condition of many main roads across East Antrim following yesterday's overnight snowfall.

He added: "They have confirmed to me that the main routes were gritted as they normally would be and that this would continue yesterday evening." In particular, he noted concerns about North Road, Victoria Road and Middle Road in Carrickfergus.

Despite near freezing temperatures and snow on Thursday afternoon, police reported that motorists continued to travel at speed at Seven Mile Straight in Antrim, with office rs issuing three fixed penalty notices and four warnings.

Meanwhile, Belfast Zoo closed yesterday and the city council's playgrounds will be shut today.

Mobile library services in counties Armagh, Down, Fermanagh and also in Lisburn were cancelled. Castlewellan and Cregagh libraries were closed yesterday and others shut early.

The Department of Infrastructure stated that salting of the scheduled road network would continue, with snow ploughs also in operation.

It has been reported that 300 staff and 130 gritters using 90,000 tonnes of salt will be available to "salt main roads to keep traffic moving safely and freely".

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