Hundreds of drivers have spent hours trapped in their vehicles on the M6 in Lancashire after heavy snow brought the motorway to a standstill.
The motorway became blocked in both directions between junctions 25 and 27, near Wigan, last night after vehicles became stuck in more than a foot of snow and some drivers abandoned their cars.
Lancashire Police said the motorway was moving again this morning, but north and south carriageways remained heavily congested with long tailbacks.
One man had to be taken to hospital after becoming ill in his car while it was stuck.
Many drivers – some stuck for up to eight hours – contacted Sky News overnight to share their tales of woe.
Kevin Collister, stuck on the motorway just past the M58 junction heading northbound, said: “There is absolutely no movement whatsoever on my side of the carriageway, all the snow is squashed down into ice and there are wagons trying to move and sliding sideways.
“It’s an absolute nightmare, we’ve been here for three hours so far. A few people are saying we might be here for the night but we’re just hoping we can get through.”
Conservative MP David Morris, stuck on the southbound carriageway, said: “We’ve ground to a halt on both sides. Nothing is really moving.
“But the emergency services have been fantastic and are doing the best for us, and everyone is in good spirits.
“I’ve just seen a snowball fight and the man next door to me has built a snowman on top of his car roof … it’s very surreal.”
Barry Pinches, on his way to Blackpool, told Sky News: “At one stage we didn’t think we would make it but it looks like things are moving slowly now. We saw some snow ploughs on the southbound carriageway but there doesn’t seem to be too many of them – they have their work cut out.”
Pete Martin, from the Highways Agency, confirmed to Sky News that the carriageways had been gritted before the snow came down.
“We had an extremely intense fall of snow across Lancashire between 8.30pm and midnight and basically there wasn’t enough traffic to keep the lanes moving,” he said.
“A number of HGVs lost traction between junctions 25 and 27 and once they blocked the carriageway the snow stacked up and the result was a number of stranded vehicles.
“We’ve had traffic officers helping motorists, and gritters and snow ploughs trying to clear up – a lot of resources are dealing with what has happened.”
Lancashire Police said officers, Highways Agency staff and mountain rescue teams were working in conjunction to help stranded drivers.
The force said: “We want to reassure anybody who’s stuck that we’re on our way with colleagues from the Highways Agency.
“The snow ploughs are out and about and the mountain rescue teams are also helping with recovery – be reassured we’ll get to you.”
It also warned drivers not to venture out while road and motorway conditions remained “treacherous”.
Hazardous driving conditions have led to collisions and delays on many routes across the north of England, including the M18, M60, M65, M56 and M58.
Meanwhile, all flights have been suspended at Leeds Bradford International Airport this morning as a fresh blanket of snow covered most of the Yorkshire region.
North Yorkshire Fire Service said a couple had to be rescued from a snow drift on the North York Moors last night.
A spokesman said: “Due to extreme weather conditions a husband and wife had driven into a snow drift and were unable to get out. The wife had undergone surgery a week before and they had tried to dig themselves out for over two hours.
“A well-known breakdown company would not attend. Fire crews from Goathland and Whitby attended and managed to get the couple and the vehicle to the safety of a local hotel.
“Usually the fire service only attend life risk incidents but on this occasion an exception was made.”
North Yorkshire Police said some main roads were blocked by snow and abandoned vehicles including the A59 between Harrogate and Skipton and the B6265 at Rylstone.
The Met Office has 12 amber warnings in place from the Midlands up to central England, urging the public to be prepared for likely disruption caused by the heavy snow.
There are also a number of yellow warnings in Wales, southwest England and London and the South East.
Weather experts have warned of the risk of flooding this weekend, as heavy rain moves in and rising temperatures spark a rapid thaw of the built-up snow and ice.
In southwest Wales, emergency services are already responding to a rise in calls as roads and properties become flooded.
There are also reports of flooding on the M5 between junction 25 for Taunton and junction 26.
The Environment Agency has 19 flood warnings in place, 15 for the South West and four for Wales.
A further 76 flood alerts have been issued, including 41 for the South West, 16 for Wales, 15 for the South East and one for the North East.
A spokesman said: “Emergency teams from the Environment Agency will be out in force throughout the weekend to shore up defences, monitor river levels and clear blockages from watercourses.”
Temperatures will steadily rise from tomorrow to an average of 4C before reaching more than 10C in the south on Sunday followed by wet and windy weather next week.
The severe weather over the past week has hit working hours, according to a survey of more than 2,000 workers by Green Flag Breakdown.
The motoring organisation said one in five people had been too afraid to drive because of the icy and snowy conditions, and a further 5% tried to take to the road but had to turn back.