2 Dec 2010

UK snow: coping in the winter weather

As the country struggles to cope with the onslaught of winter weather, Channel 4 News visits the streets of Kent to find snow-capped roads and a peculiar rise in the sale of wild bird seed.

UK snow: coping in the winter weather

Since the snow started falling earlier this week much of north Kent has come to a standstill with schools shut, shops closed and travel chaos spreading.

In the Sevenoaks and West Malling area the snow began to settle lightly on Tuesday and seems as if it hasn’t stopped since. The greenery of the North Downs, usually visible in the distance, has disappeared behind a grey cloud of incoming snow.

On the ground, the white soft fluff is everywhere. In places snowbanks are almost two foot deep and getting anywhere that isn’t local is not for the fainthearted. Heavy duty vehicles and lorries have churned up the main roads into slush and pavements remain either caked in thick snow or slippery ice.

Of the local population who do venture out, the supermarket is the place to be. One family walking to the supermarket to stock up on supplies said that although the children were having a great time, others were not so fortunate.

Helping mum

Claire walked with her four children to collect her mother before heading to the shops. “People aren’t getting their deliveries”, she said.

“We’re off to get mum supplies because we know it’s going to get more difficult to get the things she needs.

“We pay a lot of money and tax to live here and what do we get? Ice on the roads. Snow on the pavements. Year on year it’s always the same”.

The highways services say they have been working “round-the-clock” to ensure major routes are salted and cleared to keep the county moving. In Kent 53 lorries have been patrolling the main roads and 80 farmers have also been enlisted to help clear designated routes. Although local authorities insist they have enough grit in supply to last the winter months, with the snow still coming down not every road in the county has been treated.

Empty supermarket shelves - West Malling

In recent days it has not been uncommon to see shoppers carrying four loaves of bread or even up to 15 pints of milk to the checkout in some shops. In one supermarket the bread shelves were virtually empty with two loan loaves left for those who had not yet stocked up. Goods were often loaded onto sledges and pulled home past a number of abandoned trolleys now virtually covered in snow.

“My brother saw a lady walking through Ditton, near Maidstone, with 11 loaves of bread,” a council worker said.

“He asked her: ‘Having a party?’

“‘No’ she said. ‘I’m stocking up because of the weather.'”

Panic buying?

Major supermarkets say panic buying has not yet begun – but people have been stocking up on canned food, soup and everyday staples. Tesco reported a rise in “warmer foods” such as porridge and soups, while Sainsbury’s has seen a rise in bread sales of 14 per cent and long-life UHT milk of 20 per cent.

“In Scotland and the South East where the conditions are particularly difficult we are working closely with our fresh milk and bread suppliers to get deliveries through. We’re also baking extra quantities of bread in our in-store bakeries,” a spokesperson told Channel 4 News.

Railway station covered in snow

In addition to a rise in orders and everyday items Waitrose told Channel 4 News that oddly wild bird seed had been selling “really well” as customers strived to keep wildlife plump during the winter conditions.

In West Malling sales of sledges seem to have gone through the roof. One local seller told Channel 4 News he had sold more than 600 since the weather warning was announced last weekend. Nearby others are doing big business selling snow shovels.

As the snow spreads across Europe lorry drivers had also been stopping to buy winter weather clothing before venturing down to Dover and across the Channel.

“We open at 4am and this morning I had a line of lorry drivers stocking up before going over to the continent,” a local businessman told Channel 4 News.

Rail routes

Although some local traffic has passed through the area the railways have seen major problems on many routes throughout the south east. At the time of writing there had been no trains on the Maidstone to London line since the start of service this morning and a number of others facing similar problems.

At a number of local stations heavy snow covers the tracks and only a fading outline of the rails can be seen from the deserted stations. “Ghost trains” have been running through the night to try to clear the tracks of snow and ice but services are weather dependant and passengers urged to check with their providers for the latest information.

“We’re trying to put on the best service we can,” a Southeastern spokesman told Channel 4 News. “It is very difficult to keep trains moving in these conditions.”