Monday, February 02, 2009

Snow causes chaos in Britain

Throughout much of last week it was the continuing economic crisis that dominated the headlines. Protests have threatened to bring Britain to a halt after a serious of wildcat strikes broke out across the country. Oil workers, concerned about their jobs being taken by foreign workers, have walked out [BBC / Sky News]. However it was not the increasing industrial action that stopped England working. Instead, a few centimetres of snow managed to disrupt much of the country creating travel chaos and resulting in millions of pounds being lost as business closed early and many workers being forced to stay at home.

Described as a “heavy dumping of snow” by Sky News, the precipitation caused 1000 miles of traffic jams and closed all of London’s airport. At Heathrow a Cyprus airlines jet slipped from the runway, though no injuries were reported. Along un-gritted roads across the home counties motorists who braved the appalling road conditions found themselves slipping and sliding. Average speeds along many routes dropped to well below 40 km/h [20 mph] causing widespread gridlock. Those taking to public transport were left stranded after all of London’s buses were cancelled and much of the London Underground rail network was also brought to a halt. Shops in many areas were closed adding to Britain’s financial wows. It is estimated the weather may be costing the country in excess of one billion pounds.

For some the day was extremely enjoyable however. Most schools were shut and children took to the parks to build snowmen as others hit the slopes on sledges. At the dry ski-slope in Brentwood, Essex, the scene was more like the Swiss alps as snow gave a realistic feel to the facility. More snow is forecast with a severe weather warning announced by the Met Office [BBC / Sky News].

If the forecast by Punxsutawney Phil is right then winter may be here for another six weeks. “He saw his shadow and went back in,” said Jacqueline Parker, a spokesperson with the Nova Scotia provincial government told reporters. “It’s six more weeks of winter” she added [CTV News].

Today was after all Groundhog Day Groundhog Day. The annual holiday is marked in the United States and Canada. On the occaision a groundhog is used as a measure of weather prediction. If a groundhog emerges from its burrow and fails to see its shadow because the weather is cloudy, winter will soon end. If on the other hand, it is sunny and the groundhog sees its shadow, the groundhog will supposedly retreat into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks. It is an event not observed here in the UK, though the irony may not have been missed by some.

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