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Ice set to bring more chaos to Britain

LONDON (Reuters) - Britons Sunday faced little respite from the Arctic conditions that have disrupted travel and shopping plans on the last weekend before Christmas, normally one of the busiest times of the year.

Shoppers walk along Oxford Street, in central London December 18, 2010. REUTERS/John Voos

Treacherous icy conditions were forecast to replace the blizzards which forced many airports to close, trains to be delayed and motorists to become stranded in their vehicles.

Britain’s busiest airport London Heathrow, which was closed Saturday, may re-open Sunday, but operator BAA did not give a specific time.

The Met Office said the snow would gradually ease in southern England, but heavy snow would still sweep in to northeast England and eastern Scotland, with up to 20 cm of fresh snow possible.

Temperatures could hit minus 15 Celsius in western Scotland.

Britain traditionally experiences mild winters, but last year’s was the coldest for 30 years and the latest big dump of snow is the second to smother the country and cause widespread disruption in the space of just three weeks.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said he had asked the government’s chief scientific adviser to assess whether the country was experiencing a “step change” in weather patterns due to climate change and whether it needed to spend more money on winter preparations.

Some passengers at Heathrow were reported to have been stuck on the runway for a number of hours, while in the terminals they complained of pregnant women having to sleep on the floor and baggage strewn everywhere.

“We are totally abandoned,” one caller told BBC television.

Hammond said the government needed to keep under review the balance between what could be afforded on snow-clearing equipment and the level of disruption.

Many Premier League soccer fixtures have been called off, including Sunday’s top of the table clash between Chelsea and Manchester United.

This December is likely to be Britain’s coldest since 1910 if temperatures in the second half of the month are as low as they have been in the first, while media reports said Northern Ireland was suffering its worst weather in 25 years.

Editing by Matthew Jones