The clocks have gone back, the Halloween sweets have all been eaten and the shops are already filling with Christmas goodies, all of which signals one thing: winter is coming, and according to the papers it’s going to be a cold one. The media are well known for their dramatic headlines and they’re already promising heavy snowfall, which is even less welcome with the rising energy costs. This impending cold snap will supposedly be as severe as the brutal winter of 2010, which was the coldest since 1979. Three years on, have we learned any lessons about how to deal with the snow?
With much of Britain used to a generally snow-free climate, the recent spate of long, cold and eternally white winters has seen the government and public struggle to handle this new breed of weather. As many as 5,000 schools in England and Wales were closed as a result of heavy snow in January this year, with some staying shut for the entire week. This meant parents having to take the day off or work from home, but even those who struggled into their wellies and cosy women’s coats to make it into work were faced with major delays and deadlocks on the roads and trains.
These problems came three years after that record-breaking cold spell, when the government was criticised for not stocking up on enough grit for roads and for failing to deal with potholes. Experts estimated that issues such as school closures and transport problems contributed to the British economy losing £470m a day during the snowy weather earlier this year, suggesting that while we might be expecting a white winter, we’re still unprepared.
Many in the south of England experienced a practise run recently in the aftermath of the St Jude storm. Although damage was not as bad as it was first feared, some homes were left without power for days and rail companies were compelled to suspend services until lines were cleared. A few offered partial refunds to season ticket holders, but the incident has surely reinforced our total inability to cope with anything worse than a bit of drizzle.
If this all seems somewhat dismal, take heart in the fact that us Brits are not necessarily that far behind other, much snowier countries. Heavy snowfall in Sweden saw chaos ensue on the trains, with people stuck for days. Some councils have recognised the need to improve their services, ordering in extra grit to treat the roads. However, they’re still warning drivers to be wary of ice and only make necessary journeys. The Met Office has also launched a blog entitled ‘Get ready for winter’, offering advice on staying warm, travelling in snow and protecting your home.
It’s likely that these efforts won’t reassure those who are used to vague promises and massive delays. Whether we see flakes, flurries or blizzards, only time will tell if we’ve finally cracked the code to handling winter weather.