Witheringly cold weather coupled with unusually large snowfalls has brought much of western Europe and the United Kingdom to a standstill. As the holiday traveling season begins, thousands of flyers are stranded at airports, drivers caught in massive traffic jams and hospitals shorted of essential medical personnel.
Officials at London’s Heathrow announced Saturday night the airport would be closed until Sunday after delaying flights earlier in the day. Gatwick had been closed earlier in the day, but began allowing flights after clearing 4 inches of snow from the runways.
Airports in Scotland were still operating but were experiencing delays caused by conditions at other airports. Airports in France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and as far east as Bulgaria were reporting delays and cancellations. Some 2,500 air travelers were stranded overnight at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany.
Snow was expected to continue to fall into Sunday, with up to 10 inches expected in some regions. Northern Ireland had already received the most snow in 25 years.
Health officials in Wales were appealing for help from drivers of four-wheel drive vehicles to pick up many members of hospital medical staffs stuck at home. In other areas, Coastguard helicopters were called in to pick up doctors and nurses at their homes and deliver them to hospitals.
Traffic officials advised people to stay off the roads unless absolutely essential. In some places, trucks trying to spread sand on the roadway were blocked by abandoned cars and jackknifed trucks.
The BBC reported a major highway, the M5, was blocked for 20 miles by a massive traffic jam. The Automobile Association reported it had assisted drivers at more than 11,000 breakdowns during the severe weather.
At least four people were reported killed in weather-related accidents in Britain.
The worst doesn’t appear to be over yet. Overnight temperatures were predicted to drop to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 Celsius) this week. Forecasters expect another 8 inches of snow in some regions of the UK, with 2 to 4 inches more in London. Northern Europe should continue to have below-normal temperatures into the start of next week.
The average low this month in Britain has been 19 degrees F (minus 7 C), which could make this December the coldest on record.