Ice causes havoc as Arctic snap continues

LONDON (Reuters) - Widespread ice and sub-zero temperatures continued to cause disruption across Britain on Thursday, with the coldest weather in 30 years showing little sign of easing as forecasters predicted more snow.

The Met Office said severe weather warnings remained in place for eastern England, where up to 5 centimetres of snow is expected during the course of the day, with ice now the main problem as temperatures in most areas remain below freezing.

“Considering we had areas quite widely reporting 20 or 30 centimetres of snow over the last 48 hours, it is nowhere near as much as that but it is still severe weather because it is a case of ice combined with fresh accumulations of snow,” said Met Office forecaster Chris Bulmer.

“The ice problem is not really going to go away, it is going to be quite persistent over the next few days.”

He forecast further snowfall across eastern areas for the rest of the week, with possible heavy outbreaks across much of England and Wales on Sunday.

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If the extreme weather continues until Saturday, it is estimated that the disruption could cost the economy up to 2 billion pounds.

The Federation of Small Businesses estimated about 10 percent of workforce missed work on Tuesday and Wednesday because of problems getting to work.

Temperatures as low as -17 C were recorded overnight in Oxfordshire, with many inland areas remaining between -10 C and -15 C into Thursday.

Wednesday’s heavy snow fall hit power lines in Hampshire, leaving around 3,000 people without power, while up to 5,000 homes were also without electricity overnight in Sussex, Kent, Surrey.

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The wintry conditions continued to create difficult driving conditions, with the Highways Agency warning further snow showers would impact the road networks across Lincolnshire, East Anglia and the North East.

The Local Government Association said the equivalent of 1.7 million miles of road had been gritted by local councils in England over the last three weeks.

Services on many rail routes across the country were also disrupted, with many operators including First Great Western, East Coast, Southeastern, South West Trains, National Express East Anglia and London Overground announcing reduced services and delays.

Major airports including Heathrow and Gatwick were open, although they warned there was significant disruption to both inbound and outbound flights and advised passengers to contact their airlines for the latest information. Meanwhile thousands of schools remained shut, with Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, and Buckinghamshire among the worst hit areas.

Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Stefano Ambrogi