Thousands of people have been trapped, delayed and had their journeys disrupted by heavy snow that swept across parts of the UK, as forecasters warned more severe weather is on the way over the weekend.
Hundreds of motorists were stranded, while air and rail passengers faced cancellations or difficult journeys and more than 1,000 schools were closed. Some householders experienced power cuts and sporting fans had events cancelled or travel plans wrecked.
However, there were also cheerful tales of people coming to the help of others. Staff at Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall opened its doors for 140 people trapped on the A30, while a few miles away at Callywith college, workers stayed all night to help care for students who could not get home through the snow.
Emergency services personnel, local authority workers and NHS staff were praised for battling into work through the driving snow and windswept drifts, and helping keep the country moving as much as possible.
Temperatures in some places dipped into minus double figures, with Braemar in the Scottish Highlands hitting -15.4C (4.3F), making it the coldest night in the UK for seven years.
The areas worst hit by the snow, however, were south Wales, the West Country, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. By Friday evening, RAF Odiham in Hampshire had recorded 19cm of snow. In some places there were drifts up to depths of 1 metre or more.
Highways England said between shortly after midnight on 31 January and 10am on Friday, its salt spreaders undertook at least 1,300 journeys on England’s motorways and major A roads, covering about 80,000 miles.
Drivers were trapped for 12 hours in their vehicles on the A30 in Cornwall and two school buses carrying dozens of children had to be rescued. Steve Instance, 44, an RNLI manager from Cornwall, who was stuck on the road, said: “The snow came down so quickly. There was just no way of getting out, we were just jammed in.” What should have been a 40-minute journey took him 12 hours.
Claire Cranton, who works for the mobile network operator’s trade body GSMA, was trapped in her car on the A303 near Chicklade, near Warminster, Wiltshire, for more than two hours on Friday. “It has been quite entertaining,” she said. “You see a bit of the British spirit of people walking up and down talking to each other and trying to sort out what’s going on.”
Also affected were rugby fans and pundits trying to get to Paris for the Six Nations opening game between Wales and France on Friday night. Disruption to flights from airports in Cardiff and Bristol left queues of fans facing a race against time to get to the game.
Wales women’s rugby team was also caught up in the cancellations. They were due to fly from Bristol on Friday afternoon ahead of their Saturday night Six Nations game against France. The majority of flights were cancelled and the team will fly out of Heathrow on Saturday morning instead.
NHS England said its staff were walking miles in snow, digging vehicles out of drifts and sleeping in hospitals to ensure patients continued to get the care they needed.
England’s national medical director, Prof Stephen Powis, said: “It is extraordinary to see the lengths that NHS are going to in order to make sure that people get the care they need.
“Volunteers have dug out ambulances from the snow, slept over in hospitals to make sure they are there to care for patients and braved the wintry conditions to get to work.”
The UK is not yet out of the deep freeze. A fresh yellow warning for snow and ice covering northern Scotland, most of Northern Ireland, the eastern coast of England and the west coast of Wales took effect from noon on Friday until the same time on Saturday.
A separate warning for ice was in place for the southern counties between 1pm on Friday and 11am on Saturday, warning of hazardous icy paths and roads.