Big freeze travel chaos warning

THE big freeze gripping East Anglia is threatening to cause chaos today as thousands head back to work in treacherous icy conditions following the Christmas and New Year break.

Lizzie Parry

THE big freeze gripping East Anglia is threatening to cause chaos today as thousands head back to work in treacherous icy conditions following the Christmas and New Year break.

Motorists heading into work and parents ferrying their children back to school for the start of the new term this morning have been warned to expect frozen roads and icy patches as Suffolk police urge people to take extra care in the dangerous conditions.

And the freezing wintery conditions are expected to tighten their grip this week as forecasters predict snow flurries and plummeting temperatures.

A team of gritters have been working across the county's main routes, including all A and B class roads and busy commuter routes, throughout the weekend and were out again at 3am this morning as Suffolk County Council reassure people it has enough supplies to see it through the current cold spell.

But drivers are being warned to take extreme care despite efforts to grit roads.

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Inspector Bob Cracknell, of Suffolk police, said: “We have had a substantial number of traffic related calls over the weekend in relation to cars leaving the road, snow balls being thrown at vehicles and minor shunts.

“Conditions are likely to be difficult and whilst gritters will be treating major routes that in itself does not guarantee safe roads, remember not all roads can be treated.

“Road works are also due to start on the A14 at Ipswich in the morning so that too may extend journey times.”

The chilly start to 2010 has already resulted in much of the county seeing a covering of snow and as overnight temperatures drop throughout the week we can expect more flurries with a few centimeters settling in some places.

Weatherman Jim Bacon, of Weatherquest, said the short term outlook for Suffolk is for “patchy snow showers, particularly in coastal areas”.

He said we can expect to see the mercury drop to around -4C at night for the next week with daytime temperatures likely to struggle to rise above freezing.

“The cold snap is going to stay,” Mr Bacon said. “Looking at the charts the cold weather will be with us all through this coming week and maybe into the following week, it is like a proper winter.”

Speaking last night he added: “Monday will start off dry, bright and cold but there is a chance of snow showers later on, particularly overnight, into Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Through the mid-part of the week we can expect the weather pattern to bring more wintry showers especially in coastal parts of Suffolk. I think there is certainly the chance of a few centimeters settling in some places.

“The main problem will be the widespread frost and low temperatures varying between -1C and -4C overnight throughout the week.”

He said the arctic conditions which had left the county coated in a stunning layer of crisp, white snow was the result of freezing winds blowing in from Scandinavia.

“Cold air coming in from north Norway and Iceland will set the tone of the weather for the next week,” he added.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council said despite starting the winter with full salt barns, totalling around 17,000 tonnes, enough to get through an average winter, extra orders have been received due to the severe conditions currently gripping the region.

She said: “Because of the severe weather before Christmas we have also received an additional 2,500 tonnes from our supplier, and will be getting further deliveries in the New Year to see us through the rest of the winter.

“However, we would ask drivers to take care around the county in these severe conditions, as minor roads are quite icy and even some of the priority 1 and 2 routes have icy patches. Drivers should allow extra time for their journey, slow down well in advance of bends and junctions, and use a high gear and avoid harsh acceleration or hard braking.”

As many schools across the county prepare for the first day of the new term there is a chance some may remain shut as a result of the bad weather.

The county council spokeswoman said any decisions to close will be taken by head teachers as early as possible this morning and urged parents to check their website or local media if they think their child's school may be affected.

And across the country the arctic conditions are expected to continue with temperatures dropping as low as -15C in parts of Scotland and northern England in the next 10 days.

Parts of northern England were deluged with up to six centimetres of snow and in Edinburgh nine centimetres were recorded after heavy blizzards over the weekend.

On Saturday the AA dealt with more than 11,000 breakdowns, 3,000 more than an average Saturday, according to a spokesman.

Weather experts at MeteoGroup said last month was the coldest December on average since 1996.

For more information about the council's gritting routes visit www.suffolk.gov.uk/TransportAndStreets/RoadMaintenance/RoadSaltingAndSnowClearing.htm .

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