Extreme weather has resulted in travel chaos across the UK as heavy rain, snow and hurricane-force winds hit the country. Flights were cancelled at both Heathrow and Gatwick airports, Tube stations were closed and villages evacuated as the Met Office issued severe weather warnings of snow, ice and high winds across much of the UK. Experts say the chill could last for up to three days.
Wind speeds of up to 93mph were recorded in Yorkshire yesterday and up to eight inches of snow are forecast to fall in many areas of the UK on tonight and into tomorrow. Eighty flights were cancelled at Heathrow in preparation for heavy snowfall causing disruption to airline schedules.
Snow began falling in London just before rush hour and Canary Wharf Tube station was closed after heavy rain caused flooding. Elsewhere, 4,000 people were evacuated from the town of Jaywick, Essex, after a combination of heavy rain and high winds led to a risk of flooding. Evacuations also took place in nearby Mistley, Manningtree and Colchester. The British Army is on standby to help as officials rush to minimise further potential flood damage.
Towns in the east of England are especially at risk of floods and 100 soldiers have been deployed in Lincolnshire to support police in helping thousands of families to take precautions and, if need be, to evacuate.
The Environment Agency warned North Sea coastal towns and villages could be hit by large waves and potential flooding. It moved 7.5km of temporary barriers and 25 pumps to areas across the east and north east of England, including Newcastle, Great Yarmouth, Chelmsford and South Ferriby, Lincolnshire.
Residents were being urged to stay away from coastal paths and avoid driving through flood water. Even 30cm of water is enough to move a car, officials warned.
Mark Sitton-Kent, National Duty Manager at the Environment Agency, said: “Gale force winds and high tides are likely to create large and dangerous waves along parts of the east coast on Friday and Saturday.
“These conditions could also cause flooding to coastal roads and could impact properties.
"We understand that powerful tides can be dramatic, but please do not put yourself at unnecessary risk by going to the coast for a thrill or to take pictures.”
The Met Office issued high-wind warnings for much of the Midlands, east and north east of England and most of Scotland. Temperatures are expected to fall below freezing on Thursday night, bringing more snow and dangerously icy roads.
Paul Gundersen, the Met Office’s chief meteorologist said: “Most northern areas are very likely to see snow showers at times over the next few days, but the situation over the southern half of England is more complicated.”
Public Health England said people should stock up on medicines and food before the weather worsens. Several traffic accidents have already been reported in Scotland as a combination of falling snow and ice-covered roads made for highly treacherous driving conditions. In England, 20 pigs were killed after a lorry transporting them jack-knifed on the A16 in Lincolnshire.
And in Warwickshire, trains were delayed after high winds blew a garden trampoline onto nearby overhead power cables.
Motoring organisation the RAC issued advice on how drivers should deal with hazardous roads. Spokesman Simon Williams said: "Motorists all over the UK are facing very challenging driving conditions from the full array of winter weather. Driving in rain, snow and ice is a real danger so the best advice is to drive more slowly, leave far more space behind the car in front than normal, and expect the unexpected.
“If you are unlucky enough to find yourself slipping and sliding on the road, change to a higher gear to gain traction, be gentle with the accelerator and you should keep control. Also, remember to give yourself more time to brake and apply the pressure on the brake steadily. ”
Heathrow took the decision to cancel 80 flights before snow began falling in order to allow airlines to make alternative arrangements. A spokesperson said: "The latest forecast is for snow this afternoon, which will reduce the number of aircraft able to take off and land each hour.
"Alongside our airline partners and NATS, we have taken the decision to reduce the flight schedule to allow airlines to rebook passengers onto un-allocated seats ahead of time where possible.
"We advise passengers to check their flight status with their airline before coming to the airport. We apologise to those whose travel has been affected." Disruption is also expected at Gatwick and other UK airports.