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Heavy snow and ice cause disruption across the UK

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Media captionHeavy snow falls across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Several UK airports are closed and train services have been cancelled due to heavy snowfall in many areas.

Police in Northern Ireland - where conditions are said to be the worst in 25 years - and parts of Scotland are warning against non-essential travel.

At least 800 schools in Wales, 500 in Scotland and 700 in Northern Ireland closed.

More snow is forecast later in western areas and on Saturday, 10in (25cm) is possible in Wales and southern England.

The Met Office has issued severe weather warnings for heavy snow - up to 8in - in many places, including Orkney and Shetland, Highlands and Outer Hebrides, Grampian, Northern Ireland, Wales, the Midlands, and the south-east and south-west of England.

Forecasters have warned that in parts of Scotland temperatures could drop to -20C (-4F) overnight where snow is lying.

Strong winds will cause the snow to drift in some areas and ice could be a problem anywhere in the UK, with temperatures struggling to get above freezing.

The BBC Northern Ireland weather centre said the current snow situation was probably the worst widespread fall in about 25 years.

In 2000, similar amounts of snow fell in about four hours, but were restricted to eastern counties.

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Drivers in Londonderry, Antrim and Down are being warned only essential travel should be undertaken.

By Saturday, a second band of heavy snow is forecast to affect southern England and Wales, with 2-4in likely in many places and 8-10in possible in some others. Forecasters say there is some uncertainty about how far north it will reach.

Problems caused by the weather include:

  • Flights are suspended at Exeter, City of Derry, Belfast City and Belfast International airports
  • London City, Norwich, Aberdeen, Inverness and Isle of Man airports have reopened after earlier closures, but flights are subject to delays and cancellations. Disruption is possible at other airports, including Gatwick, Heathrow and Cardiff
  • Budget airline Easyjet has cancelled all its flights in and out of Gatwick airport between 0600GMT and 1000GMT on Saturday and expects further cancellations and delays throughout the day
  • Easyjet passenger Caspar Mahoney said he and 100 other passengers have been stuck on a plane bound for Pisa, Italy, on the runway at Gatwick for seven hours, unable to take off because of ice
  • Southern, Southeastern and South West trains have cancelled some services on Saturday in anticipation of more bad weather
  • Cardiff's Winter Wonderland attraction featuring an open-air ice rink and a ferris wheel has been closed because of snow up to 6 ins deep
  • A cannabis factory in Leicester has been exposed by the wintry weather because heat lamps inside melted the snow on its roof
  • An urgent appeal is being made for blood donors, particularly those who are O negative, as stocks are running low
  • A number of weekend football fixtures have been cancelled and Friday's race meetings at Uttoxeter and Ascot have been been called off
  • Several major roads - including a 50-mile (80km) stretch of the A9 in Scotland - and many minor roads are blocked by snow
  • Police say conditions have been "particularly atrocious" in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, and some motorists had to be rescued from their cars after becoming stranded
  • Transport secretary Philip Hammond says distributors of heating oil are hoping to clear their delivery backlog in the next few days, following fears it may need to be rationed

Friday was due to be the last day of term in many schools, but hundreds have closed their doors early because of the weather.

'Absolutely awful'

New Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown has insisted Scotland is "very well prepared" and the authorities are doing all they can to keep trunk roads open.

Mr Brown's predecessor Stewart Stevenson resigned after his department was criticised for its handling of the problems caused by the previous bout of severe weather.

The RAC reported breakdown callouts reached a peak of about 2,000 an hour at 1400 GMT, with the busiest areas being Wales, Northern Ireland and north-east England.

And the AA breakdown organisation said it had received 11,000 callouts by 1500 GMT, roughly 1,300 every hour.

Spokesman Gavin Hill-Smith said conditions in some areas were the "worst imaginable, even for experienced drivers", with Aberdeenshire worst hit.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) said it would run "ghost trains" to try to stop ice forming on the tracks and had hundreds of ground staff on duty to keep key junctions and points clear of snow.

Energy Minister Charles Hendry warned on Thursday that more bad weather over Christmas could lead to "very serious" shortages of domestic heating oil.

But a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron has played down the suggestions, saying: "I don't think that's going to happen at all.

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Media captionEasyjet passenger Caspar Mahoney described how he was stuck on a plane at Gatwick for seven hours

"The position at the moment is that there is sufficient fuel. The problem is getting it around the country."

Heavy snowfall during the past few weeks has caused huge disruption, especially in Scotland and north-east England.

Airports, roads and schools were closed, and companies are now warning of a backlog of deliveries which may not reach customers before Christmas.

The Royal Mail is putting on 7,000 delivery rounds this Sunday in a bid to ease the problem.

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