Friday 29 March 2013

UK: The Big Chill

Snow chaos: How big freeze is killing one person every five minutes

BRITAIN could face another month of bitter winter weather with the big freeze killing one person every five minutes.

27 March, 2013

Forecasters warned the bitter cold is likely to continue over Easter and through much of April.

Temperatures will stay well below-average for at least a fortnight with no sign of any real turnaround until the beginning of May.

Government officials said the cold snap is likely to send the death toll “substantially” up on the winter average. Deaths in March are already up 10 per cent to 1,715 a week – around one every five minutes.

The Met Office has a level-3 health alert for “severe cold weather” until tomorrow, with severe weather war­n­ings for icy conditions in the East.

An elderly couple in Llangollen, north Wales, almost died from carbon monoxide poisoning after snow blocked the vents to a generator at their home.

John Lightfoot, 84, and his wife Beryl, 79, were found collapsed by their son Gwyn before being taken to hospital. Calor Gas last night warned thousands of homes in rural areas could go without heating over Easter because Government officials have not processed an appeal to relax working time rules to give staff more chance to visit customers.

Company spokesman Paul Blacklock said workers have been unable to schedule in customers who need their gas supplies filled for the Easter break.

He said: “We have seen unprecedented demand and orders are behind. We applied for the permit for time flexibility so we could schedule in a couple of extra hours to reach all our customers.

It means thousands of households in areas hit by snow could be left without gas.”

But the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which issues the permission, said: “When drivers hours are relaxed it is only as a contingency measure. There are no reports of shortages of heating oil or LPG [liquefied petroleum gas].”

The Met Office said March is shaping up to be the coldest for 43 years with average temperatures lower than the -2.5C (28F) recorded in 1970. Parts of the country have been left under a blanket for snow for almost a week as the big freeze refuses to loosen its grip.

Many roads are still closed. In Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, council staff built a snow wall across the street after drivers ignored “Road Closed” signs. And John Lewis stores are selling fake daffodils for the first time as the cold weather delays the arrival of the spring blooms.

Farmers Jon and Emma King, of East Harptree, Somerset, resorted to putting newborn lambs in the oven to keep them warm. Mr King, 40, said: “They stay in there for half an hour or so until they are thawed out. But it’s been so cold – even the water in the animal sheds is freezing over.

The wind chill has been terrible so the lambs which have been born outside have been getting too cold.”

The unseasonal March weather is shaping up to be the coldest for 43 years

Experts said at the root of the miserable weather is the jet stream, currently further south than it should be.

The thin ribbon of circulating air is currently flowing around North Africa allowing cold air to flood in from Eastern Europe.

Met Office forecaster Brent Walker said temperatures will stay below-average until the end of April. “Throughout Easter and the first week in April we are going to continue with a similar theme to what we have seen,” he said.

Easterly winds, from Europe and Russia, will keep temperatures significantly below average.

Although there is no major snowfall expected, it is going to be cold and it could be the end of the month before temperatures really start to recover.”

Jonathan Powell, forecaster for Vantage Weather Services, said: “It is going to remain colder than average to the North and East with the chance of some snow showers.”

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