Page last updated at 03:42 GMT, Saturday, 9 January 2010

What would the UK do if it snowed this much every year?

By Anthony Reuben
BBC News

An oft-quoted reason for the problems we have been facing with snow in parts of the UK is that it would not be worth spending more money on infrastructure because the country experiences heavy snow so rarely.

Snowploughs clearing a road near Lyon in France
France has also been experiencing severe weather

But what could be done if this sort of weather became an annual occurrence throughout the country?

For many countries, such conditions would be considered routine or even mild.

In many cases, the differences are not in huge infrastructure projects but in things that can be bought by individuals such as winter tyres or better insulation.


If you were going to be driving in snowy conditions for several months each year there are some changes you might want to make.

A man fitting snow chains in Germany
Snow chains are used in the Alps

Winter tyres are compulsory in Sweden between 1 December and 31 March.

The tyres may be studded, which means they work well on snow and ice but are noisy on clear roads.

Some towns and cities make people pay extra charges for using studded tyres because they wear the roads out more quickly and they are even banned on some roads in Stockholm.

Alternatively, there are winter tyres made of softer rubber than usual and with a different tread pattern, which means they are less likely to skid but do not last as long as normal tyres.

There are specialist storage companies in Norway that look after your winter tyres when you are using your summer ones and vice versa, for people who do not have garages.

People driving on snowy mountain roads are encouraged to use snow chains.

Indeed, motorists driving in the Alps must carry snow chains in their cars whether there is snow on the road or not.


A great deal of attention has been given to the amount of salt available to grit roads in the UK, but it is actually only effective down to a temperature of about -10C.

A gritting lorry in Suffolk
Gritting lorries may also be fitted with snowploughs

The combination of more suitable tyres and drivers being used to snowy conditions means that some countries with more severe winters than the UK spread less grit.

In parts of Moscow, chemicals are used to clear the snow, although there are concerns about what they may do to plant life.

Enterprising road-clearers are also known to use the sand from local playgrounds to grit the roads.

Snowploughs are another popular way of clearing roads. There are 450 snowploughs registered in the whole of Britain, according to the DVLA, although there are another 3,060 gritters, some of which can be fitted with snowploughs.

In Stockholm they also have smaller snowploughs to clear pavements, while in Oslo there are even some areas with under-pavement heating so that the snow does not get a chance to settle.

Also in Norway, many farmers have snowplough attachments for their tractors and may be paid by local residents to clear private roads and minor roads that are not a high priority for councils.

In some American states, municipalities will pay individuals who own ploughs to clear roads.


If the UK were to get this sort of winter every year you might want to consider making some changes to your home.

Houses in Cambridge
Houses in the UK could be better designed for cold weather

Triple-glazing is a standard fitting in much of Scandinavia.

There are also different designs for plumbing systems that do not require pipes such as the outlets from sinks and toilets to be on the outside of the house.

Much more insulation also tends to be used, so people can heat their homes through cold winters without ending up with vast bills.


If there were heavy snow every year, transport organisations might consider making big investments to keep systems going.

A train near Potsdam in Germany
Overhead power lines make it easier to keep train services running

One very expensive change would be the use of overhead power lines for all overground trains instead of the electrified third rail.

It is the use of overhead power that keeps the trains going in parts of the UK as well as Switzerland and Germany, for example.

At airports in northern Sweden they use warm sand to keep runways usable.

Experts say the sand can only be used in places where it is so cold that it will freeze instantly, otherwise it would get sucked up into the engines of the aircraft.

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