Planes, trains and automobiles face disruption as snow and ice sweep Britain

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Transport disrupted as snow and ice sweep Britain

LONDON — Airports and highways were shut, hundreds of schools had to close, and even the venerable soap opera “Coronation Street” was disrupted Tuesday as the worst snow and icy weather in years swept Britain.

All flights in and out of London’s Gatwick and Luton airports were canceled as workers rushed to clear snow from runways. Other airports across the U.K. — including Manchester Airport, the John Lennon Airport in Liverpool and Southampton Airport — also closed temporarily, while delays and cancelations hit many other international airports, including London’s Heathrow.

A driver was killed when two trucks collided on a highway near Manchester in northwest England, and scores of accidents were reported on icy roads. The Automobile Association said it had dealt with 15,000 incidents across the country as cars broke down and drivers were stranded.

Up to 16 inches (40 centimeters) of snow was forecast later Tuesday in parts of the country as the bad weather headed south from Scotland.

Weather service the Met Office said unusually heavy snow was expected in the south, although London will largely be spared of the worst weather. The office said Britain was experiencing its longest cold snap since 1981.

Schools were shut across Scotland and northern England, and many highways and train services were forced to close.

Sports and entertainment also felt the impact. Police in northwest England said Tuesday’s soccer game between Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa was being postponed due to severe snow.

Filming at the Manchester studios of “Coronation Street” — a popular TV soap about a working-class community in northwest England — was suspended after cast and crew members were kept away by the snow.

Temperatures were just below freezing in most areas, falling as low as -10 C (14 F) in northern Scotland. The unusually cold weather is expected to continue for the next two weeks.

This winter has been the coldest for years, driving a surge in demand for heating fuel. Authorities on Monday urged power suppliers to switch temporarily from gas to other fuels such as coal. The measure, known as a gas balancing alert, has only been used once before, in March 2006.

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