* Four killed as snow, strong winds sweep Poland
* Hundreds of thousands without power
* Traffic chaos across central Europe
(Updates death toll, adds detail, previous PRAGUE)
By Barbara Sladkowska
WARSAW, Oct 15 (Reuters) - A cold snap with unseasonable early snow storms killed at least four Poles, cut off power and heating to hundreds of thousands and caused traffic chaos across central Europe, media reported on Thursday.
Three people, including a shepherd, froze to death in the mountains of southern Poland due to the severe weather over the past 36 hours, Polish television said. A fourth person died when strong winds blew his car off the road in northern Poland.
Up to a quarter of a million people were still without power, mostly in central and northeastern Poland, after the heavy snowfall and strong winds, local media said. On Wednesday, 700,000 people suffered power cuts.
Tens of thousands of Czechs also lost power and heat supplies as high winds and heavy snow swept the central European country earlier than usual.
Traffic collapsed in north-eastern parts of the country after fallen trees blocked roads and rail tracks, and mountain areas reported about 50-60 cm (20-24 inches) of fresh snow.
Power group CEZ CEZPsp.PR declared a state of emergency in eight districts due to damaged power lines and subsequent outages caused by the weather, and sent out hundreds of workers to repair the damage.
A heating plant malfunction left many of the 40,000 residents in the northern town of Jablonec nad Nisou without heat and the mayor was considering closing schools, news Web site www.idnes.cz reported.
Some Polish villagers suffered because they had banked on a warmer autumn and had not yet bought coal for the winter. Meterologists say October snow flurries are not uncommon in Poland but this week’s weather has been unexpectedly severe.
Austria’s Alps have had as much as 90 centimetres (35 inches) of snow in the past two days, prompting several ski resorts in southern Styria to open their slopes ahead of plan for the earliest season start on record.
There was also snowfall in the low mountain ranges of eastern Germany and overnight frost in the west with temperatures falling as low as -8.5 degrees Celsius, the German national weather service said on Thursday. In Germany, temperatures rose to 30.9 C as recently as last week, a record high for October. (Additional reporting by Gareth Jones, Jana Mlcochova, Boris Groendahl, Sarah Marsh; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Janet Lawrence)