Snow blasts icy Britain

2010-12-17 19:06

London - A fresh blast of snow threatened to throw Britain's roads and railways into disarray in the run-up to Christmas, as winter tightened its grip on the country for the second time this year.

This December is likely to be the coldest since digital records began in 1910 if temperatures in the second half of the month are as low as they have been in the first, said Helen Chivers, a forecaster at the Met Office.

It issued a flash warning for London and southeast England. Flash warnings are given when the Met Office has 80% or greater confidence that severe weather will strike soon.

Motorists were warned to exercise caution on icy roads, and already police in Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland have told drivers to avoid non-essential travel.

The Automobile Association (AA) said call-outs were up by 50% compared with an average Friday in December, and the surge in holiday traffic was set to make matters worse.

More snow is expected later on Friday and by Saturday, another band of heavy snow will move South, towards the Midlands and southern Wales, with 5 to 10cm likely in many places and up to 20 to 25cm possible in others.

Fuel supplies

Flights were suspended at Inverness, Exeter, City of Derry, Belfast City and Belfast International airports, while services on some train lines have been cancelled or delayed.

Energy Minister Charles Hendry warned on Thursday that more bad weather over Christmas could lead to "very serious" shortages of domestic heating oil.

Speaking in the House of Commons, he said higher demand along with delayed deliveries and soaring oil prices means homes may have to wait as long as four weeks for supplies.

But Quentin Churchill, a sales and marketing manager at oil distributor Tate Oil warned customers not to panic-buy.

"The supply problem will be a logistics problem rather than an actual shortage at the refineries," he said.

But he conceded: "In general, most companies can't deliver this side of New Year now, so if you're without fuel, that's a long, long time and a very unhappy cold Christmas."