Belfast Telegraph

Deep freeze continues as UK could see coldest night of the year

Treacherous ice and snow continued to cause travel disruption across the country as forecasters warned that the coldest night of the year could be in store.

The deep freeze left thousands without power and hundreds of schools were forced to close, while commuters on the roads, rail and airways were hit by delays and cancellations.

The Met Office has extended its yellow weather warnings for snow and ice until 11am on Tuesday to cover vast swathes of the country, including London and the South East, much of the Midlands, Northern Ireland and Wales, as well as the eastern coast of England and Scotland.

Forecasters warned that clear skies on Monday night could see temperatures drop as low as minus 15C (5F) in Wales and central England, potentially beating Sunday night's low of minus 11.6C (11F) in Chillingham Barns, Northumberland.

Emergency services warned motorists to drive with caution, even on motorways, with icy slush on the M40 between junctions two and three causing a van to flip over following a collision with two other cars.

Western Power Distribution said engineers worked through the night to restore power to 99,500 homes in the Midlands, South Wales and South West but 7,000 customers were still without electricity, 6,500 of them in the West Midlands.

SSE said they restored power to more than 50,000 customers on Sunday but 800 in Oxfordshire and parts of Wiltshire remained without power on Monday morning.

Birmingham City Council was forced to cancel all council-run school and related transport services on Monday, while m ore than 200 schools were closed in Gloucestershire, more than 300 in Staffordshire and more than 100 in Shropshire.

In Wales, 71 schools were closed in Flintshire, 11 in Wrexham and 49 in Denbighshire.

Met Office meteorologist Alex Burkill told the Press Association on Monday: "It was chilly in Chillingham Barns, but it wasn't the coldest night of 2017 - that was Saturday night when temperatures went down to minus 12.4C.

"We could well beat that tonight and could go as low as minus 12C and even minus 15C."

The RAC said they were expecting 11,000 breakdowns on Monday, a figure which is 20% above the seasonal norm, and breakdown cover provider Green Flag said it had received more than three calls every minute.

Heathrow apologised for continued flight disruption throughout Monday, while Eurostar also warned passengers of delays in both directions caused by the weather.

Kenton Keithly, 65, of Woodland, California, was stranded in Newcastle after his connecting flight to Heathrow was cancelled on Sunday and he must wait until Tuesday to return to San Francisco.

He said: "Speaking with other passengers in the line last night, we all agreed that BA has learned nothing from seven years ago and Heathrow have failed to address the issue of having enough de-icers to cope with demand when needed.

"Britain obviously doesn't do well in winter. Everything breaks down."

The British Red Cross have been out in force across the UK with teams as far north as Caithness checking on vulnerable people with power cuts, and volunteers in Wales transferring staff and supplies between hospitals in weather-hit areas.

Simon Lewis, head of crisis response at the British Red Cross, said: "Since Friday, our volunteers have been helping medical staff reach patients, and checking on vulnerable people in rural areas, especially after power cuts.

"Our 4x4 ambulances have also provided essential support in these dangerous conditions.

"Our volunteers have shown fantastic commitment to their communities these last few days and I'd like to thank them for their considerable efforts in what have been challenging circumstances."

The TUC called on employers not to force staff to make hazardous journeys into work, saying firms in areas of the country affected by the snowy conditions should have put out advice to their staff on what they should do when snow, ice and a lack of public transport prevents them getting to work.

Policies should also cover what parents should do if schools close and they have no alternative childcare, said general secretary Frances O'Grady, adding: "It is essential that employers don't force staff to make dangerous journeys for the sake of presenteeism.

"For many employees the bad weather will have made their commute virtually impossible, but thankfully many bosses now have 'bad weather' policies so staff know what is expected of them."

Forecasters said temperatures will slowly warm during Tuesday but freezing fog patches are expected to linger in areas.

Met Office meteorologist Aidan McGivern added: "There will be some sunshine but everywhere will be feeling particularly cold, some places below freezing throughout the day.

"There are signs of a change though into the west as we end Tuesday with cloud and outbreaks of rain moving into western parts of Britain.

"The rain will be heavy in places and as it moves its way east there will be some hill snow but it brings with it milder temperatures so by the end of Tuesday night and the start of Wednesday temperatures will be recovering."

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