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U.K. hit by third day of travel chaos as Europe freezes

Britain on track for coldest December in 100 years; snow and ice storms affect Tuscany, Italy

LONDON — Snow and frigid temperatures caused disruption across northern Europe for a third day Monday, stranding travelers, snarling traffic and shutting schools. Authorities said the bad weather is likely to run through Christmas.

London’s Heathrow, the world’s busiest international airport, said at most only one-third of its scheduled flights were likely to operate until Wednesday morning, with further disruption expected for at least several days afterward.

Elsewhere, snow and ice storms lashed Tuscany, Italy, and temperatures as low as minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit were reported in parts of Scandinavia.

In Germany, more than 1,000 flights at airports in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin were canceled after up to 16 inches of fresh snow blanketed the country. Some 500 stranded passengers slept on cots at Frankfurt airport.

“The domino effect of disruption to services could continue for some days to come,” Heathrow spokesman Andrew Teacher said.

Hundreds of passengers at Heathrow camped overnight in terminal buildings after services were canceled or delayed.

A statement from Heathrow said that passengers “should anticipate further delays and cancellations in the following days and potentially beyond Christmas Day.”

It also confirmed that Heathrow’s closure over the weekend was due to 5 inches of snowfall within around one hour on Saturday.

Britain said it was relaxing night flying restrictions at the airport for the next four days to help it clear a backlog of flights. Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said operating hours at the airport would be extended until 1 a.m. GMT and arrivals for repatriation flights would be allowed throughout the night.

Coldest since 1910
Temperatures plunged to a record low overnight in Northern Ireland, and forecasters predicted fresh deluges of snow across Britain. Motoring organizations warned of potentially fatal conditions on Britain’s icy roads.

According to news service Bloomberg, the U.K. Met Office said up to 8 inches of snow could fall in the south and west of the country Monday, following some 6 inches Sunday.

The Met Office said the nation had experienced the heaviest snow falls in December in decades and was on course for record low temperatures.

Story: Snow and ice ground planes, halt trains across Europe

“You have to look back to December 1981 to find similar snow depths,” forecaster Helen Chivers said. “If the second half of the month is as cold as the first, this will be the coldest December on record since 1910.”

Simon Rushton, a spokesman for Qantas Airways, said 3,000 of its passengers were affected by the shutdown, as it had been forced to cancel flights from London and turned back other flights headed to the U.K., Bloomberg reported. Rushton said about 1,000 people were stranded in European and Asian airports.

NBC News’ Peter Alexander, who has been working in London, found himself stranded after his flight from Heathrow to the U.S. was canceled for a third day in a row.

“This is one of those rare events I’m used to covering and it’s a lot less pleasant when you are the one stranded,” he told by phone.

However Alexander said he imagined Christmas in London would be “a pretty unique experience.”

“This week was supposed to be my holiday; I’m supposed to be working Christmas in New York,” Alexander added. “But there’s more time for shopping — I heard about a couple of places in the West End — and there’s enough fish and chips through to the New Year.”

‘Are we in Argentina yet?’
Staff at Heathrow and Gatwick airports in London handed out foam mats and foil blankets to those stranded and without anywhere else to stay. Some fashioned improvised beds from clothes, chairs and stacked suitcases.

“Dad, are we in Argentina yet?” one elementary school child sobbed, as his father bought sandwiches, playing cards and comic books from a store inside a Heathrow terminal building.

Janos Kalman, a 50-year-old psychiatrist from Szeged in Hungary, said he had braved a night on a terminal floor at Heathrow after his flight to Budapest was canceled. “I’ve seen people crying and panicking, and the staff trying to cope with it all,” he said.

London subway trains were packed with dejected holiday travelers in search of hotel rooms, while many tourists complained there was little clear information amid the chaotic scenes at the city’s airports.

“There seems to be a lot of confusion and I have only seen one Heathrow worker. All the airline desks are shut because it is a Sunday — it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Elizabeth Herridge, who arrived at the airport to learn her flight to Amsterdam had been canceled.

Air travel was reduced at Paris’s two main airports, with Orly airport shutting down briefly and stranded travelers still camping out in the waiting areas at Charles de Gaulle.

A Lady Gaga concert in Paris was canceled because trucks delivering sets for the pop diva’s extravagant event couldn’t get to the city’s Bercy stadium. The show was expected to be rescheduled for Tuesday.

The concert had already been rescheduled — it was originally postponed in October during massive strikes in France.

The pop star said staging and sound equipment was stuck aboard heavy trucks ordered off the city’s icy roads. “I am furious and devastated, it’s unfair to my fans and to me,” she wrote on her Twitter site.

France is having one of its snowiest winters in years. Many TGV fast trains were running slower than usual, tacking about 20 minutes on to each journey.

French weather service Meteo France said it forecasts more snow for the Paris region for Monday and a risk of snow and ice in Paris on Dec. 26 — another major travel day.

Train travel between Paris, London and Brussels on the Eurostar line was disrupted, partly because of speed restrictions, the company said on its website.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG was expecting reduced flights across Europe with “much disruption” expected to affect Frankfurt airport, another major European hub, Bloomberg said.

However, Amsterdam’s Schiphol said Monday on its website that while some flights had been canceled, it was open, Bloomberg reported.

Dutch motorists were coping with icy and slippery roads, prompting government authorities to impose speed limits of 30 mph on various highways as a large number of accidents contributed to lengthy traffic jams.

In Poland, hard hit by the cold snap, six people froze to death on Sunday night, raising the death toll to 114 in the last month.

Heavy snow also snarled Warsaw traffic again on Monday. Warsaw airport was open but was receiving far fewer passengers than usual because of flight cancellations in western Europe.

source: U.K. hit by fresh travel chaos as Europe freezes – Weather –

How Ironic

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