Belfast Telegraph

Freezing rain could turn roads into death traps, motorists warned

Freezing rain could compound travel misery.

Bands of freezing rain which have doused parts of the country risk turning roads into icy death traps, motorists have been warned.

Roads and railways have been rendered impassable by the coldest start to March on record, stranding hundreds of people in treacherous conditions.

Travel misery could be compounded as freezing rain sweeps across southern parts of England and west Wales on Friday afternoon.

The Met Office issued a yellow weather alert until 11.55pm, saying the rare phenomenon could spell icy stretches which may be difficult to see.

The Army has been drafted in as part of a major rescue operation to reach motorists trapped on roads by heavy snow and icy blasts.

Two police forces declared “major incidents” in response to the widespread disruption, turning to the military for help with rescues and to provide assistance to hospitals and medics.

The lowest daily maximum temperature for March was hit on Thursday (PA Graphics)

Friday rush-hour is expected to be badly impacted by the unrelenting weather.

Major rail operators including Southeastern Rail told passengers not to travel, while London Waterloo, the UK’s busiest train station, will close at 8pm on Friday as services on South Western Railway wind down from 6pm.

Meanwhile, the RAC said frozen rain – which occurs when snow, ice, sleet or hail passes through a layer of warm air before cooling again closer to the ground, freezing immediately on impact – could pose a deadly road risk.

Traffic spokesman Rod Dennis said: “Freezing rain perhaps represents one of the greatest challenges any driver could face.

“Droplets of rain which come into contact with the ground and other surfaces freeze instantly.

“This creates a huge hazard as roads may look clear and safe, despite actually being potentially icy death traps.

“Where freezing rain is forecast, put simply drivers should avoid using their vehicles in affected areas.”

The Met Office added on Twitter that black ice was a threat that could be caused by freezing rain, as it “may not be visible, but it will be there”.

The forecaster said Thursday saw the temperature slump to its lowest daily maximum on record for March, at minus 5.2C at Bryn Bach Park, Tredegar.

Half a metre of snow was measured in two areas – Drumalbin, Lanarkshire, and St Athan in Glamorgan, South Wales.

Strengthening winds caused blizzards and drifting snow in some parts of the country, spelling travel problems for the fourth day in a row.

Flood warnings were also issued in several coastal regions by the Environment Agency, which published eight warnings and 33 alerts for south west and north east England.

Teams have also been sent out in Lincolnshire to help nurses, medics and care workers get to work, the agency said.

Thousands of homes were left without power due to the extreme weather and hundreds of schools have been forced to close, including the majority in Wales.

The M62 has been closed indefinitely between Rochdale and Huddersfield, where dozens of drivers required rescuing, Greater Manchester Police said.

Hampshire Police said they had called in the military to help evacuate people from the A31, while Avon and Somerset Constabulary said about 100 vehicles had become stuck on the A303 at Ilminster.

Cars were pictured strewn across the road on the A303 – where drivers reported being stuck for 17 hours – with queues stretching back miles.

Wiltshire Council also announced a major incident in response to the tailback and urged people to avoid the area.

All motorists were rescued by Friday afternoon, Wiltshire Police later confirmed.

Cars queued back for miles on the A303 (Thomas Hamilton/PA)

Crashes were also reported on Friday on the M20 and the M40.

Devon and Cornwall NHS and Shropshire NHS have both asked for military assistance, which began at 6am on Friday.

The Army has sent 10 4×4 vehicles and 20 troops to Shropshire, while the Royal Marines have deployed the same resources in Devon and Cornwall.

A South Western Railway service between London Waterloo and Weymouth ground to a halt near Christchurch, Dorset, on Thursday evening after the train track providing it with power froze.

It caused four other trains to stop behind it and forced passengers to endure a night without heating or electricity inside the carriages.

Philip Brown endured more than 15 hours on a train with 50 people on board when it got stuck overnight in the snow (Philip Brown/PA)

Passengers were stranded on five trains throughout the night (Philip Brown/PA)

Yellow warnings for snow and ice are also in place for vast swathes of the country for the whole day.

Up to 20in (50cm) of snow could fall over parts of Dartmoor, Exmoor and south east Wales.

Temperatures will once again be below freezing for many parts of the UK during the day, with strong winds making it feel even chillier.

Several people have already died as a result of the severe weather, including a seven-year-old girl.

The whole of the Irish Republic is also on red alert, valid until 6pm on Friday, after being hit by the worst snow in 35 years.

In Scotland, the severe weather is causing travel disruption, with roads closed and dozens of drivers stuck in a snowdrift.

Nearly all train operators warned of cancellations and disruption again on Friday and hundreds more flights were cancelled.

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