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2000: Spring freeze brings chaos

Severe weather has forced the closure of one of Britain's main airports, Luton, near London, as blizzards and flooding have caused widespread chaos.

More than two weeks into British Summer Time, much of the country has been experiencing its coldest April day on record.

Large swathes of countryside were blanketed in snow, bringing traffic to a standstill and paralysing transport systems.

Planes diverted

Luton Airport was closed for more than 10 hours during the night as snow covered the runway. It reopened at 0800 BST (0700 GMT) this morning.

About 20 planes were diverted to Birmingham and Stansted instead.

One of the worst-affected areas was the Pennines, with a "white-out" blocking the A57 Snake Pass from Glossop in Derbyshire to Sheffield.

The AA rescue service said there had been dozens of accidents across the UK.

Motorways around Birmingham were said to be particularly hazardous as snow hardened into icy patches.

Flooding

Heavy rain has also been a major problem, sweeping across parts of the south and causing flooding from Cambridgeshire to Somerset.

Floods reached up to two feet (0.61 metres) in several homes, and amber flood warnings are in place across much of the country.

In Somerset, a nurse in her 20s suffered hypothermia when most of her car was submerged in floodwater.

She was forced to stand up with her head through the sunroof and call for help on her mobile phone.

Sheep deaths

The snow also brought bad news for sheep farmers. Thousands of newborn lambs have been frozen to death in snowstorms. More sheep were smothered as gale-force winds blew snow into drifts up to five feet (1.52 metres) deep.

"The biggest factor is starvation due to cold for those lambs who are newly born or in the first week of life," said Peter Allen of the National Farmers' Union.

"Farmers can expect fairly heavy losses."

In Devon, winds reached up to 65 mph (105 km/h), forcing motorists to abandon their cars on Dartmoor.

The blast of icy weather comes just a month after weather meteorologists pronounced this winter the sunniest this century, with a daily average in England and Wales of two-and-a-half hours of sunshine a day.

The BBC Weather Centre says that the bitter weather is not set to last, however.

Forecasters are predicting more settled conditions from tomorrow, with some sunny spells, although conditions will remain cold.

In Context
The millennium year was one of record-breaking weather conditions.

After the cold snap in spring, the autumn of 2000 saw the worst floods on record in some areas of the UK.

In December 2000, Britain had its first significant widespread snowfall for seven years, with overnight temperatures falling to as low as -13C in parts of the Midlands.

There were further severe winter conditions in 2002 and 2005.

UK scientists have warned that prolonged spells of heavy winter rain are becoming more frequent, increasing the flood risk significantly.

The same influences, however, are making the summers warmer and drier.

In 2003, Britain sweltered in record temperatures during the hottest summer for at least 500 years.

Scientists have identified a general trend of climate change, although there is disagreement over what exactly is causing it.

Reports suggest it is a combination of human activity, solar activity and warmer oceans.


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