Black ice making M2 motorway treacherous warn police

A magpie perches on a ram in the Glens of Antrim A magpie perches on a ram in the Glens of Antrim

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Severe black ice is making driving treacherous on Northern Ireland's M2 motorway, police warned on Wednesday evening.

As temperatures plummeted, they asked motorists to be extremely careful.

The latest warning follows predictions that the bill for maintaining NI roads this winter is expected to be more than £10m.

The Department for Regional Development said that the average cost of a normal winter service is around £5m.

Last year's extreme weather pushed the total up to more than double that amount.

A DRD spokesperson said early indications suggested it would be "significantly more" this year.

"The average cost of a normal winter service is around £5m, although this rose to over £8m last year as a result of the extreme weather conditions over the Christmas and New Year periods," they said.

"It was also estimated that a further £2m was spent on roads requiring immediate treatment as a direct result of that weather.

"While it is too soon yet to estimate the full cost of this year's winter service, early indications would suggest that the final cost is likely to be significantly more than last year."

The latest statement follows the Stormont Executive's announcement that the draft budget, if implemented, would see the DRD losing £63m.

Meanwhile, time is running out for thousands of people trying to get back to Northern Ireland for Christmas, as cold temperatures continue to cause problems to the transport network.

Forecasts of fresh snow showers across Northern Ireland could mean further delays.

Both of Belfast's airports are open. At Belfast International Airport, there were no undue problems on Wednesday. Some delays were caused by problems at destination airports.

Dublin Airport was closed due to snow, but has now reopened.

Hundreds of schools remained closed on Wednesday.

Transport

City of Derry Airport is open but its website says Aer Arann flights to and from Dublin have been cancelled.

Passengers are being advised to check with their airlines for the latest on flight information.

Translink said it was experiencing "major disruption" to all services. The company said it had been able to operate more bus services as conditions improved, however, it is still facing difficulties in rural areas and in some estates.

Barra Best gives the latest weather update for Northern Ireland valid from 1400 GMT

Roads Service said motorists should continue to remain cautious.

It said salting was carried out on main routes but would have "limited effect at these temperatures".

Colin Brown of the Roads Service said another 25,000 tonnes of salt was on order for Northern Ireland to arrive over the Christmas and New Year period.

The consignment is being ordered from Egypt.

Since the start of December, Belfast International Airport has used 100,000 litres of liquid de-icing materials, 60 tonnes of solid de-icing materials, and at least 100 tonnes of road salt on car parks and paths.

Emergency calls

An unprecedented number of people have called the Housing Executive to report problems caused by the cold. The executive has drafted in additional resources but is now asking all its tenants to report only emergency problems until after the holidays.

Meanwhile, Social Development Minister Alex Attwood has called for the creation of a Severe Weather Payment - as an add-on to the cold weather payments that people get when temperatures drop below 0C for seven consecutive days.

Alex Attwood said the government should pay up to £350 to those who qualify.

BBC NI weather presenter, Cecilia Daly, said the freezing temperatures were set to continue on Wednesday, but there had not been fresh snow overnight.

"It will remain bitterly cold with temperatures staying well below freezing, ranging from minus three celsius in Belfast to minus seven or minus eight celsius over the snow fields.

"Tonight a severe frost will return with a few freezing fog patches too.

"There will also be some fresh snow over parts of Derry, Tyrone and Antrim, but no more than a few cms in most places. Temperatures will drop into negative double digits again with a few spots falling close to minus 15 degrees."

The outlook is for "freezing, but largely dry weather" to continue between now and Christmas Day, with freezing fog in some areas.

Bad weather

The Ambulance Service has suspended transport for non-emergency patients until Christmas Eve.

Communications Officer, John McPoland, said the decision was made because of the "continuing bad weather".

Details of school closures are available on the news online website and ceefax page 169.

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