Page last updated at 19:44 GMT, Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Snow brings disruption to parts of Europe


Fun and frustration in the snow

Severe winter weather has brought dangerous conditions and transport disruption to parts of Europe.

In the UK, thousands of schools were closed and travellers have been hit by major delays after heavy snowfall left swathes of the country at a halt.

Temperatures as low as -22C (-8F) have left 122 dead in Poland this winter, while in central Norway temperatures plummeted to -41C (-42F) on Wednesday.

In the Swiss Alps avalanches have killed at least seven people.

A weather alert has been issued for 14 regions in south-western France that were hit by heavy snow.

UK travel chaos

Extreme or severe weather warnings are still in place across the UK, which is in the grip of its longest cold snap for almost 30 years.

Its hospitals have implemented major incident plans to deal with the extreme weather.

Adam Easton
Adam Easton, BBC News, Warsaw

According to the police in Poland, most of the victims of the cold were homeless men in their 30s and 40s, who died from hypothermia after drinking.

Much of the country is covered in snow. But Poles are used to such conditions and they are coping fairly well. Sub-zero temperatures and the freezing of the Vistula river happen every year.

In the winter four years ago, temperatures fell to -35 and 233 people died.

On Tuesday up to 20cm (8in) of snow fell in parts of Scotland and northern England, causing travel chaos for millions of people.

Another 40cm has been forecast in some areas as the snowfalls spread from north to south.

Gatwick airport was closed on Wednesday morning, while Heathrow, Birmingham, Luton and Southampton were open, but experiencing delays and cancellations.

Forecasters at the UK's Met Office said the bitterly cold weather would continue for the next couple of weeks, with further snowfall expected.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown called on people to "look out for neighbours and relatives in need of assistance".

France's regional transport centre said secondary roads in several departments, including Brittany, Cotes d'Armor and Finistere, were almost impassable.

Norwegian freeze

The death toll in Poland has now risen to 122 - most of the dead were reported to have been homeless people.

In Burzyska nad Bugiem, in the east of the country, the army has installed makeshift bridges after flooding and ice split the village in two.

On Tuesday, Swiss rescue teams found the bodies of three skiers - two men and a woman.

They were part of a group caught in an avalanche in the Diemtigtal valley about 40km (25 miles) south of the Swiss capital Bern, on Sunday.

The deaths bring to seven the number of people killed in the disaster.

In the central Norwegian town of Roeros temperatures plummeted to -41C, the coldest weather in decades.

Officials at the local airport reportedly had to remove frost from the planes manually, as conventional liquid de-icers were ineffective.

But in the Netherlands, hundreds of people embraced the chill, taking part in the traditional skating event held on frozen Henschoter Lake in Utrecht.

The Dutch skating federation said on Tuesday that the shallow lake had frozen to a depth of 12cm, making it safe for skating.

Why the cold weather?

Map showing winds from the north and north east bringing cold weather to northern Europe
The current big chill is a result of high pressure over the polar region, which has pushed cold air out of the Arctic towards much of northern Europe, parts of Asia and the US. Winds from the north and north east, rather than the south and south west, have brought freezing temperatures to the UK.
Map showing the unusually cold temperatures across the UK
Provisional Met Office figures for December show temperatures for much of the UK were 1.5C and 2.5C below the mean temperatures for the last 30 years. Scotland saw temperatures dip still lower - from 2.5C to 3.5C. On Thursday, temperatures in Scotland plunged to -22.3C in places.
Satellite image showing snow across China
Winds from the north also brought cold weather to parts of Asia, with Beijing receiving its heaviest snowfall for nearly 60 years. At the weekend, up to 30cm (12in) of snow fell in China's capital and its neighbouring port city of Tianjin. Dozens of people have also died in a cold snap in northern India.
Map showing how some parts of the world are colder than normal, while others are hotter
However, while parts of the world suffer freezing temperatures, the seesaw patterns mean other areas are warmer than usual, including Alaska, northern Canada and the Mediterranean. Met Office figures for the end of 2009 show some places dropped 10C below the average, while others were 10C above.
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