Thursday, December 02, 2010

Brrritain grinds to a halt - again

The British government have ordered an urgent audit of the country's snow-readiness today as much of the country struggles with the early winter weather. Road, rail and air links are all reportedly in chaos.


  • More than 2,000 schools closed and the NHS trust in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, was reduced to appealing for local people with 4x4s to help transport medical staff. Midwives went to work in Hexham, Northumberland, on a dairy farmer's tractor. In Scotland, Forth coastguard said it used a 4x4 to collect intensive care nurses from their homes and transport them to the Queen Margaret hospital in Dunfermline.
  • Britain's second biggest airport, Gatwick, was closed all day and not expected to reopen until this morning after runway clearing was repeatedly foiled by fresh snowfalls.
  • Network Rail conceded that a third of trains were delayed or cancelled by early afternoon, after earlier estimates that 80% of services were on time. But a spokesman said that both the group's own staff and train operators had their "full severe weather mitigation measures in place".
  • On the roads, four hours of continuous snowfall in Yorkshire, Kent and parts of the east coast saw motorways close or shrink to a single lane, while cities such as Sheffield spent most of the day without buses and the Humber and Forth bridges were closed.

How do other countries cope?

Drivers in Sweden are required by law to fit their vehicles with winter tyres, local authorities have to keep the roads clear, and shop owners have to ensure the pavement outside their business is non-treacherous.

As soon as there's snow or ice, the councils are out putting salt on the streets as a legal requirement. In the very north of Sweden, that doesn't work, so they get out the snowploughs instead. When things get really bad, she added, the snow chains come out and warm sand is scattered over airport runways.

The Canadians, too, are well adjusted to the cold.

When winter comes, snow tyres, chains and studs are snapped up, some streets are declared no-parking zones because they lie on snowplough routes, giant snow melters are fired up for the winter, and caravans of snowploughs are dispatched to runways and highways.

Britain never seems to expect or be prepared bad or good weather. When it is too hot, too cold or too wet, chaos ensues. People throw their arms up in disbelief and say “how are going going to cope?” And the answer is they don’t.

To be fair, Britain does not normally get such extremes of weather so it could be argued that the measures taken in countries like Sweden and Canada where they expect large snowfalls are justified.

However, the estimated cost of the current freeze is £1.2bn a day. Surely it would make economic sense to at least be reasonably prepared for this sort of bad weather at least get the gritters out on the roads as the snow is falling not two or three days later when hundreds of motorists have slid off them.

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