Big freeze cripples Europe

Britain endures its coldest night of the winter with temperatures plunging to -22C in the Scottish Highlands.

A man makes his way across a snowy Parliament Square in London.
Powered by automated translation

Europe was blasted by more snow today as Britain endured its coldest night of the winter and fears for energy supplies intensified. Britain, in the grip of its worst winter in decades, saw overnight temperatures plunge to minus 22 degrees Celsius at Altnaharra in the Scottish Highlands. Manchester in north-west England and the Brecon Beacons mountains in Wales hit minus 16 degrees, while Glasgow recorded minus eight.

"Temperatures will struggle to rise above freezing across most of the country by day, with severe and penetrating frosts at night," said chief forecaster Richard Young at the Met Office national weather service. The conditions sparked concern for energy supplies in Britain, as gas was cut off on Thursday to almost 100 major firms in a bid to avert a crisis. "We've got plenty of supplies, the gas storage is about 70 per cent full," the environment secretary, Hilary Benn, told GMTV television in a bid to reassure the public. With supplies from the North Sea supplemented by imports, "there's absolutely no need for any domestic customers to worry at all," he insisted. Air travellers in Europe waited anxiously to see if flights would depart. Pan-European low-cost airline easy Jet cancelled 32 flights, largely to and from Britain's London Gatwick and Liverpool airports. Flights between Belfast and London Stansted and Milan Malpensa and Rome Fiumicino were also scrapped. London Heathrow, the world's busiest international passenger airport, said it was open but warned travellers to check with their airline. "Our airfield team has worked round the clock to keep both runways clear but the threat of further snow and ice remains," it said. The beleaguered Eurostar train service linking Britain with France and Belgium faced further disruption after a train got stuck on Thursday in the undersea Channel Tunnel.

"Because of the current severe weather conditions Eurostar will continue to run a restricted service up to and including Sunday," the rail operator said.

In Norway, temperatures hit minus 42 degrees Celsius in the central village of Folldal.

The plunging temperatures forced a rise in electricity demand, sending prices up too. Germany, already gripped by freezing temperatures, braced for up to 40 centimetres of fresh snow later today, accompanied by gale force winds.

"What is being forecast for the weekend could lead to chaotic traffic conditions and potentially leave large parts of Germany completely paralysed," the Autoclub Europa warned. Airports drafted in extra personnel while rail operator Deutsche Bahn warned of delays from snowdrifts and frozen points. Ten homeless people have so far frozen to death in Germany this winter. Most of mainland Spain was put on alert for fresh snowfalls, strong winds and low temperatures, while heavy rain caused several floods in the southern Andalusia region.

Snow caused the closure of a section of the main motorway linking southwestern France with Barcelona in northeastern Spain. The route crossing the Pyrenees Mountains was reopened early on Friday, but a line of lorries seven kilometres long was waiting in France for weather to improve further, motorway authorities said. In France, 37 departments were put on orange alert with heavy snowfall expected.

"The amount of snow expected is significant, exceptional even," Meteo France warned. Several towns in southwestern Provence, notably Orange and Avignon, woke up under up to 20 centimetres of snow, major train delays and power cuts. * AFP