FOUR people have been killed and a woman is seriously injured after an avalanche in the Scottish Highlands today as the UK is besieged by once-in-a-decade snowfalls.
Mountain rescue crews with police dogs were dispatched to Glencoe shortly after 2pm local time after reports of an avalanche.
Two men and two women were found within four hours but were pronounced dead. Another woman is in a serious condition and one man remained unharmed.
The climbers were part of a group on the Bidean Nam Bian mountain when the avalanche occurred, burying them under at least one metre of snow. The alarm was raised by another group of climbers who found one of the victims.
Avalanche risks in Scotland are not common and while there had been snowfalls last week, there had not been any new snow in that area for four days.
Instead it’s the south that has been blasted by arctic winds and even blizzards in what is expected to be the biggest snow showers in at least a decade and experts predict it could last weeks.
The snow and ice caused chaos for the second day in a row at various airports, particularly Heathrow which had to cancel 417 flights yesterday and another 111 today with many other short-haul flights disrupted.
Heathrow management is now planning on axing at least another 100 flights in advance, ahead of more expected snowfalls this week. There were heated scenes at the airport today as some passengers had spent the night camping out in the terminals, that some have described as like a “refugee camp”, waiting for flights.
Other passengers told stories of having to sit in their grounded aircraft for hours before being moved back into the terminal area.
More misery for passengers is expected today with more snow on the way for the British capital hitting the south east of England first from France then moving north.
The dramatic weather is being blamed on “an upheaval” in the stratosphere.
The phenomena caused temperatures in the stratosphere to rise by 50 degrees with the disturbance filtering down and causing wild easterlies instead of the usual mild westerlies.
“The lower stratosphere will be perturbed for weeks and its pushing chances of further cold and easterly winds well into February,” the Met Office’s Adam Scaife said yesterday.
This is expected to lead to significant snow showers and even blizzards in many parts of the country.
Rail passengers also suffered today with reduced train services across the country due to the weather and on the roads emergency crews battle 9000 breakdowns today after dealing with more than 11,000 yesterday. Seven people were also taken to hospital when a double decker bus crashed into cars.
Wales has borne the brunt of the worst of the weather.
That said, its not all gloom. Thousands took to parks across the country with toboggans and skis or to make snow men.
The cold snap also led to power outages, particularly in Northern Ireland where at least 900 homes were without electricity on Saturday.
For Sunday, the snow is expected to reduce traffic at Heathrow by 20 per cent, and French air traffic authorities have ordered a 40 per cent cut in takeoffs and landings at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports.
Aeroports de Paris, which operates the city’s main airports, said air traffic there would be disrupted from late Saturday “and all day Sunday”.
Air France said all of its long-haul flights would operate normally on Sunday, but that about 40 per cent of its short and medium-haul flights would be affected by the disruptions.
Snow and ice covering large parts of France led to several fatal car crashes, one of which killed three French soldiers about to join comrades fighting in Mali, authorities said.
The troops were travelling in an army car with their military packs and weapons when their vehicle crashed in an accident involving two trucks and two cars.
In total, six people were killed on the slippery French roads on Saturday, and the nation’s weather services have forecast more snow across the northern and southeastern parts of the country over the weekend.
The French railway SNCF said high-speed train travellers could expect delays of up to 40 minutes for all TGV destinations on Saturday night, as train conductors had been ordered to slow down because of the elevated risks linked to the storms.
In southern Europe, the fierce weather claimed several lives, killing two men in Spain as the force of winds whipping the country’s southeastern coast caused a wall to collapse on them in the city of Cartagena.
Spain’s national rail operator ADIF said wind damage forced delays to high-speed trains linking Madrid with the major cities of Seville and Valencia.
The country’s interior ministry issued an alert for the weekend, warning of snow and rainstorms nationwide with winds up to 100 kilometres per hour and rough seas in the Mediterranean.
In Portugal, an elderly man was killed after strong winds hurled him into a door in the central municipality of Abrantes, leaving him with deadly head injuries. Two teenagers were hospitalised after a chimney collapsed in Agualva, in the Lisbon suburbs.
The Portuguese meteorological institute has issued the highest weather alert for six of its 18 districts. According to rescue services, some 3,900 weather-related incidents were reported in Portugal between Friday morning and noon on Saturday.
Some welcomed the icy spell. In Russia, thousands of Orthodox devotees braved the cold weather and plunged into holes cut into frozen rivers and ponds to celebrate the Orthodox Epiphany.