Snow brings joy and chaos in equal doses
The worst deluge of snow for three winters hit the West yesterday, while forecasters are warning of a freezing weekend with more snow to come on Monday.
Planes, trains, roads, hospitals, schools, colleges, libraries, shops and bus services across the region were shut down for hours as millions took a bonus day off and either stayed at home or ventured out on foot to enjoy a winter wonderland.
Six inches of snow fell in some places in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire in blizzard conditions from before dawn and while the snow was welcome for hundreds of thousands of children as schools closed across the region, travelling to work for those who had to be there was a nightmare.
For a time yesterday, the M4, M5 and Severn Bridge were closed because of heavy snow and accidents, and the list of A-roads in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Somerset that were closed – particularly on hills around the Cotswolds, the Forest of Dean, the Wiltshire Downs, Salisbury Plain and the Mendips – grew longer as the day progressed.
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Train services were severely delayed and Bristol Airport was closed until just after lunchtime while ground crews worked frantically to clear the runway of snow, as it still fell.
The snow eased off in Somerset and Dorset by just after lunch, but continued to fall in blizzard conditions in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire until well after dusk.
Many minor roads were impassable, the rest were treacherous to only the brave or those with 4x4s. In urban areas built on hillsides, like Stroud in Gloucestershire, Bristol, Bath and Malmesbury in Wiltshire, countless residential roads on slopes were blocked by car drivers sliding out of control.
In Stroud’s Parliament Row, a police 4x4 crashed, while officers over the border in Wiltshire warned drivers were ‘risking their lives’ attempting to drive down the hills of Malmesbury – one car slid into a 17th century cottage in the High Street. In Bristol, police even stopped a gritter from attempting to treat one hilly road, deeming it too dangerous for the hefty truck.
Forecasters predicted freezing temperatures overnight and into the weekend would actually make conditions worse as any melting run-off from the snow will freeze, and an official weather warning has been issued for ice.
At Steeple Ashton, on the edge of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, amateur weather monitor Geoff Witts said it was the most snow he had recorded in one day since 1985 – more than four inches – while even professional weathermen like ITV’s Alex Beresford was caught out attempting to get a train back to Bristol from London.
Steeple Ashton’s four inches was bettered the further north one went – in north Wiltshire, some six inches fell, and in the Forest of Dean, on the edge of an unprecedented ‘red warning’ area, up to ten inches fell in some parts.
The snow hit the elderly and vulnerable worst of all. The Royal United Hospital in Bath, like most hospitals in the region, cancelled all but urgent or emergency appointments and surgery. Chief operating officer Francesca Thompson said they were asking patients not to risk travelling in.
“Most of the hospital outpatient clinics have run this morning, but we are asking patients and visitors not to put themselves at risk by travelling to the hospital, unless it’s absolutely necessary,” she said.
The weather is also playing havoc with sports fixtures. Bristol Rovers called off their home match at the Memorial Stadium this afternoon more than 24 hours in advance yesterday, while Swindon Town’s manager Paolo di Canio joined club officials and fans in a desperate attempt to save the game against Shrewsbury, scheduled for 3pm today.
First, the club called for volunteers to help clear snow from the area outside the County Ground, but abandoned that attempt as another blizzard engulfed the town yesterday afternoon. The volunteers then turned their attention to clearing snow from the pitch covering as darkness fell.
The snow essentially made normal life stop, but for Carly Taylor, who had booked a wedding yesterday at Swindon’s Register Office, nothing was going to stop her big day. She appealed on local radio for 4x4 drivers to come to her rescue, and volunteers arrived to drive her and her father Shaun to the wedding to milkman Richard Smith – who also blagged a lift in a 4x4.
The milkman then drove the new Mrs Smith to the reception in the milk float, whose heavy electric motor had no problems getting up the hill into Old Town – even though more than half the wedding guests didn’t make it at all. Carly said: “I am so relieved. I felt awful when I saw outside this morning. It has had all week to snow and it had to snow today.”
Virtually every school and college from Gloucester and Swindon to Bristol, Bath and Taunton was closed, while the West’s main universities in Bath and Bristol also closed.