Snow falls in UK’s ‘Miserable March’

AFP, LONDON

Sun, Mar 24, 2013 - Page 6

Britain was hit by unseasonal heavy snowfall on Friday that left tens of thousands of homes without power and forced the closure of a nuclear site.

Up to 40cm of snow was expected in the worst-affected areas.

A spell of bad weather this month has seen British media dub it “Miserable March.”

The Met Office national weather service said that while it was not unusual to see snow in March, the cold spell had been unusually long.

The government dismissed newspaper reports that gas stocks, drained by the ongoing wintry weather, were just days away from running out.

The Sellafield nuclear site on the northwest English coast was forced to close as a precaution because of the weather.

Staff were being sent home from the reprocessing and waste storage facility, but there was no evidence of any safety issues, its operator said.

“In response to the current and predicted adverse weather conditions on and around the Sellafield site, as a precaution, a site incident has been declared and the plants have been moved safely to a controlled, shut-down state,” it said.

Sellafield was home to the world’s first commercial nuclear power station, but it stopped generating electricity in 2003.

Across the Irish Sea, Northern Ireland bore the brunt of the snowfall, caused by cold westerly winds from Russia and northern Europe colliding with an area of low pressure moving eastwards off the Atlantic Ocean.

“Forty thousand customers are currently without power,” said supplier Northern Ireland Electricity, which has reconnected about 50,000 properties following “storm force winds and blizzard conditions.”

“Damage has been caused by flying debris and high winds, including broken electricity lines and damage to poles,” it said.

The snow forced the closure of Belfast City Airport, though the larger Belfast International remains open.

Northern Ireland’s soccer World Cup qualifier with Russia was postponed until yesterday because the snowy pitch at Belfast’s Windsor Park.

More than 1,000 schools around Britain have been shut, while towns in Cornwall, southwest England, have witnessed flooding following torrential rain.

Temperatures were as low as minus-1.9oC in Dalwhinnie, central Scotland.

“We have had reports of about 15cm of snow in Northern Ireland so far and similar levels over the Pennines [the spine of England] and into Wales,” Met Office forecaster Helen Chivers said.

“By the time it stops we’re expecting to see up to 40cm of snow in places. It’s blowing around in the strong winds, so there will be deeper drifts,” she added.

Consultancy JBC Energy said British gas storage levels had shrunk to just 10 percent of total capacity, according to data from operators’ association Gas Storage Europe.

“UK natural gas prices have spiked to record levels this month as the country grapples with an emerging supply crisis,” it added.

However, the government played down press fears that Britain’s gas stocks would soon run out.

An energy ministry spokeswoman said: “Protracted cold weather increases demand, but the UK gas market is responsive and our gas needs are continuing to be met.”