LONDON (Reuters) - Britain, shivering through its coldest winter in three decades, was hit by a fresh blanket of snow on Wednesday, halting flights from Gatwick, Birmingham and Cardiff airports and throwing many suburban train services back into chaos.
The Met Office has issued severe weather warnings for a large swathe of England, stretching from Devon to Essex and also covering the West Midlands and northwest England.
The snow fell on St Hilary’s Day, the coldest day of the year according to medieval lore.
However, there were some signs of a respite to the bitter start to the new year, with the Met Office saying that milder air would bring rain across much of the country by the weekend.
Commuters travelling into London on overground train services suffered long delays again on Wednesday morning, just as services had begun to improve after last week’s heavy snow.
Travellers at Gatwick in Sussex suffered delays after flights were suspended to allow snow to be cleared from the runway. Heathrow airport was open, although it was reporting some cancellations.
Flights were suspended from Birmingham airport while Cardiff airport was closed until late morning.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown told parliament a total of five airports in the south and Midlands had closed earlier in the day. He said he expected all of them to re-open later on Wednesday.
Brown said that virtually all main transport networks had remained operational throughout the winter onslaught and that supplies of depleted gritting salt remained a priority.
The government asked local authorities on Tuesday to halve the amount of grit put on icy roads to conserve salt supplies.
“It is important that every road remains safe,” Brown said. “It is also important that we have sustainable supplies of salt for what is the longest period of bad weather, and the worst bad weather for over 30 years in the history of our country,” he added.
Brown said one unspecified salt manufacturer had announced it would be producing more salt.
He also said he was expecting more foreign imports of salt to arrive in the next few days after arranging for them to be delivered weeks ago.
In Ireland, more than 2,500 people were left without electricity after high winds brought down power lines. Heavy rainfall and melting ice also caused flooding in the south of the country, with fresh snow causing transport problems elsewhere.
Additional reporting by Andras Gergely and Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Steve Addison