Met Office Abandons Long-Term Forecasts

(Independent) – FIRST IT PROMISED a “barbecue summer” that brought little but rain. Then came the “mild winter” which turned out to be one of the coldest in 31 years. Now the Met Office is simply scrapping its long-term seasonal forecasts.

In what will widely be seen as an embarrassing climb-down, the Devon-based weather centre insisted the move came in response to public polling. “Our research suggests the public aren’t interested in seasonal forecasts but they do want monthly forecasts,” a spokeswoman insisted. The hotel owners and UK businesses that were left bruised by the lack of promised sunshine last summer may not accept this line as easily.

September’s disastrous winter prediction – in which the Met Office claimed that there was a one in seven chance of a cold December to February – will be its final seasonal forecast.

It will be replaced from April with a monthly outlook that will be updated on a weekly basis. The Met Office insisted that the UK was a “temperate climate” which made it “very hard to forecast much beyond a week”. It promised to continue working on long-range forecasting, which, rather than being intended for public consumption, is usually provided to help businesses plan ahead.

Last month it emerged that the Met Office may be dropped by the BBC after nearly 90 years following complaints about its forecasts. The Met Office’s contract comes up for renewal in April.

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‘There has been no global warming since 1995’

(Daily Mail) – THE ACADEMIC at the centre of the ‘Climategate’ affair, whose raw data is crucial to the theory of climate change, has admitted that he has trouble ‘keeping track’ of the information.

Colleagues say that the reason Professor Phil Jones has refused Freedom of Information requests is that he may have actually lost the relevant papers.

Professor Jones told the BBC yesterday there was truth in the observations of colleagues that he lacked organisational skills, that his office was swamped with piles of paper and that his record keeping is ‘not as good as it should be’.

The data is crucial to the famous ‘hockey stick graph’ used by climate change advocates to support the theory.

Professor Jones also conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon.

And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no ‘statistically significant’ warming.

The admissions will be seized on by sceptics as fresh evidence that there are serious flaws at the heart of the science of climate change and the orthodoxy that recent rises in temperature are largely man-made.

Professor Jones has been in the spotlight since he stepped down as director of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit after the leaking of emails that sceptics claim show scientists were manipulating data.

The raw data, collected from hundreds of weather stations around the world and analysed by his unit, has been used for years to bolster efforts by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to press governments to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Following the leak of the emails, Professor Jones has been accused of ‘scientific fraud’ for allegedly deliberately suppressing information and refusing to share vital data with critics.

Discussing the interview, the BBC’s environmental analyst Roger Harrabin said he had spoken to colleagues of Professor Jones who had told him that his strengths included integrity and doggedness but not record-keeping and office tidying.

Mr Harrabin, who conducted the interview for the BBC’s website, said the professor had been collating tens of thousands of pieces of data from around the world to produce a coherent record of temperature change.

That material has been used to produce the ‘hockey stick graph’ which is relatively flat for centuries before rising steeply in recent decades.

According to Mr Harrabin, colleagues of Professor Jones said ‘his office is piled high with paper, fragments from over the years, tens of thousands of pieces of paper, and they suspect what happened was he took in the raw data to a central database and then let the pieces of paper go because he never realised that 20 years later he would be held to account over them’.

Asked by Mr Harrabin about these issues, Professor Jones admitted the lack of organisation in the system had contributed to his reluctance to share data with critics, which he regretted.

But he denied he had cheated over the data or unfairly influenced the scientific process, and said he still believed recent temperature rises were predominantly man-made.

Asked about whether he lost track of data, Professor Jones said: ‘There is some truth in that. We do have a trail of where the weather stations have come from but it’s probably not as good as it should be.

‘There’s a continual updating of the dataset. Keeping track of everything is difficult. Some countries will do lots of checking on their data then issue improved data, so it can be very difficult. We have improved but we have to improve more.’

He also agreed that there had been two periods which experienced similar warming, from 1910 to 1940 and from 1975 to 1998, but said these could be explained by natural phenomena whereas more recent warming could not.

He further admitted that in the last 15 years there had been no ‘statistically significant’ warming, although he argued this was a blip rather than the long-term trend.

And he said that the debate over whether the world could have been even warmer than now during the medieval period, when there is evidence of high temperatures in northern countries, was far from settled.

Sceptics believe there is strong evidence that the world was warmer between about 800 and 1300 AD than now because of evidence of high temperatures in northern countries.

But climate change advocates have dismissed this as false or only applying to the northern part of the world.

Professor Jones departed from this consensus when he said: ‘There is much debate over whether the Medieval Warm Period was global in extent or not. The MWP is most clearly expressed in parts of North America, the North Atlantic and Europe and parts of Asia.

‘For it to be global in extent, the MWP would need to be seen clearly in more records from the tropical regions and the Southern hemisphere. There are very few palaeoclimatic records for these latter two regions.

‘Of course, if the MWP was shown to be global in extent and as warm or warmer than today, then obviously the late 20th Century warmth would not be unprecedented. On the other hand, if the MWP was global, but was less warm than today, then the current warmth would be unprecedented.’

Sceptics said this was the first time a senior scientist working with the IPCC had admitted to the possibility that the Medieval Warming Period could have been global, and therefore the world could have been hotter then than now.

Professor Jones criticised those who complained he had not shared his data with them, saying they could always collate their own from publicly available material in the US. And he said the climate had not cooled ‘until recently – and then barely at all. The trend is a warming trend’.

Mr Harrabin told Radio 4’s Today programme that, despite the controversies, there still appeared to be no fundamental flaws in the majority scientific view that climate change was largely man-made.

But Dr Benny Pieser, director of the sceptical Global Warming Policy Foundation, said Professor Jones’s ‘excuses’ for his failure to share data were hollow as he had shared it with colleagues and ‘mates’.

He said that until all the data was released, sceptics could not test it to see if it supported the conclusions claimed by climate change advocates.

He added that the professor’s concessions over medieval warming were ‘significant’ because they were his first public admission that the science was not settled.

Bookie Refuses To Pay-Out £7m On Snow Bet

(Reuters) – BOOKMAKER LADBROKES is refusing to pay out more than seven million pounds to a man who gambled on a white Christmas across the UK, as the bet was accepted by mistake.

Cliff Bryant, 52, had placed two five-pound accumulator bets that snow would fall on 24 towns and cities across the north of England on Christmas Day.

“We have apologised to the customer for any confusion and for mistakenly accepting an accumulator bet when our own rules state that only single bets are available on a market of this nature,” said a Ladbrokes spokesman.

“We are happy to void the bets and to pay the customer his winnings on the relevant singles.”

They however amount to just 31.78 pounds, rather than the 7.1 million Bryant was expecting.

The graphic designer from Southampton, who told the local Southern Daily Echo newspaper he was “gutted” and would seek legal advice, claims the first accumulator would have won him 4.9 million pounds, with the second adding 2.2 million.

“If I make a mistake in my work like that it costs me dearly and I think the offer should be a lot more generous than they have made,” he told the paper.

Ladbrokes should have made their rules clearer, he added.

“They are one of the leading bookmakers in the country and I think they ought to do their homework a bit better in future.”

Ladbrokes gave Bryant details of the Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS), an impartial adjudicator on disputes that arise between gambling operators and their customers.

Danny Cracknell, a manager of the IBAS, told Reuters that Bryant had been in contact and they would be investigating the issue once he had completed the relevant forms.

Snow: Frequently Asked Questions

(Guardian) – THE ROADS are covered in ice, your kids are driving you mad, and the cupboards are bare – what to do? Let the Guardians’ writers solve all your bad-weather-related difficulties.

The roads near me are well-gritted, traffic is flowing and the buses are running on time. How do I get off work?

Already you’re doing two things wrong: you’re not joining in the hype, and you’re being terribly unimaginative about the number of possible excuses furnished by the Big Freeze™. For all your employer knows, your front door could be frozen shut, trapping you inside. You might have got stuck to your bus shelter seat. Perhaps your car got wedged in a huge drift of rock salt. You could be snow-blind, or worse, snow-intolerant. There are usually a few stories in the morning paper you can adapt to suit your needs. If you don’t feel able to lie, then just skip work without saying anything and go back when everyone else does. Chances are no one will even ask about the reasons for your absence, and if they do, you can just say you had diarrhoea.

Tim Dowling

Which shoes are best for negotiating icy pavements?

There is just one rule: your sole must have a tread. If it doesn’t, no matter how stylish your shoe, you will look try-hard and, possibly worse, are destined to slip. That rules out stilettos, flat pumps, and most cheap Ugg-alike sheepskin boots with flat rubber soles. Wellies remain the best solution. “Fun” wellies will stop you slipping but won’t garner you any kudos unless you own Marc by Marc Jacobs’s amazingly cheap ones with primary coloured treads (just £14, but only available from the boutique in London). Plain black or navy Hunters are becoming hackneyed but will keep you safely stylish. Aigle is currently top of the welly food chain. Other options include the frivolous apres-ski boot – good grip and perfect with skinny jeans – or a traditional hiking boot with bright laces and a chunky sock: very Marc Jacobs. Remember: icy pavements are precarious but provide the perfect conditions in which to carve out your place in the snow-chic hierarchy.

Imogen Fox

And if I fall over, how can I get up with dignity?

1 If the bus queue applauds when you’re flat on your ass, take a bow. Don’t skulk off avoiding eye contact. That’s pathetic.

2 Homer Simpson once noted the golden rule of comedy: “Man fall down. Funny.” People are going to laugh at you. Accept it: you can secretly hate them for their misplaced levity.

3 Don’t get up too quickly, because you’ll probably go back down even faster. Marx noted that history repeats itself: first as tragedy, second as farce. Falling down is different: it’s farcical the first time, the second time it’s even funnier – at least to onlookers, 75% of whom are unfeeling brutes.

4 If you can’t get up because you’ve broken something vital, try defusing the situation by singing the Chumbawamba song about the triumph over adversity while you await the ambulance’s arrival. It’ll be a long wait, but fortunately you can repeat the chorus for hours. This is a great way to disperse crowds. They’ll think concussion has made you temporarily bonkers, and leave you to suffer alone.

5 If someone helps you recover your shopping/hat, think like Blanche Dubois. All of us on occasion depend on the kindness of strangers. Meet kindness with gratitude.

6 If you’ve scratched your BlackBerry/iPhone/Rolex in the tumble, don’t go on about it. You’ll get no pity, but you’ll probably get mugged. And you know what? You’ll deserve it.

Stuart Jeffries

With school shut, how can I keep the children entertained all day?

As realisation dawned that teachers were having a long, snuggly lie-in, my neighbours and I swung into action and set up a kid-pool system. The morning was spent in the garden. Lunch was at Tash’s while I went out for a reviving coffee and emptied the craft section of my nearest pound-shop.

The afternoon then saw 10 children squabbling over scissors and shiny pink paper in my living room while Isabel and I mainlined tea and contemplated what time wine would be appropriate. And 4pm brought the scheduled film: Ice Age (obviously) and bouncing on the sofa for the littlees, with Doctor Who next door for the over-sixes.

Until the Big Freeze ends I imagine we’ll repeat as required. Cut the day into manageable sections. Lots of solidarity-based parenting. And remember that in weather like this, children need to go to bed at six at the latest. It’s for their own good!

Bibi van der Zee

What’s the best substance for de-icing my path?

Despite having strict guidelines for almost everything else, local councils have been curiously remiss on path clearance. Thank God for the Horse & Hound internet chat forum. Top tips are dishwasher salt, sawdust and ashes, though the last two are likely to be in short supply if you live in town. Cat litter also gets a big thumbs up, though you do need to be careful as it turns into a grey claggy goo in the slush and gets everywhere. Especially carpets. You may also want to make sure that every neighbourhood moggy doesn’t come to celebrate the arrival of a new outdoor toilet.

John Crace

How can I drive without writing off my car?

Get the roof and all windows clean of snow and ice before you set off (using the air-con works wonders). If you’re going cross-country, top up the tank and take a mobile phone, torch, blankets, warm coat and boots, food and water, a snow shovel and an old sack or rug (to lay under the wheels if you get stuck). Use major roads, which should have been gritted.

On the road, easy does it. Brake, steer and accelerate as smoothly as possible, says the Institute of Advanced Motorists. Start gently, in second, with low revs, easing your foot off the clutch to avoid wheel-spin. Try to maintain a constant speed, stay in a high gear for better control (less power to the wheels), and slow right down before you start any descents. The point is to drive so you’re not reliant on your brakes to stop you. Treble your normal stopping distance, and if you do have to brake, do it gently. If you skid, take your foot off the brakes and steer; only brake if you can’t steer out of trouble.

Jon Henley

What should I wear to keep warm in bed?

Wear a nightcap, is the Department of Health’s charmingly Dickensian advice. But there are other options. First, don’t let yourself get cold before you get into bed as you’ll struggle to warm up – make a hot drink when you fill your hot water bottle. Dress your bed with a fleecy underblanket and, if you don’t mind channelling the Waltons, flannel sheets. Extra blankets should be kept on hand. A nightie is never going to match pyjamas for keeping you cosy – and bed socks are essential. Edith Povey from NHS Direct favours a dressing gown, which is easy to shrug off if you get too warm, and warns that your bedroom should be kept at 18C at night. And in the black of night, throw style to the wind, tuck your PJs into your socks, add a hooded sweatshirt, pull the duvet over your head and sleep tight.

Homa Khaleeli

What are the most common snow injuries, and how should I treat them?

Anyone who has heard the sound of their own bone break will not be surprised to learn that slips, trips and falls are the most common snow- and ice-related accidents. In particular, “wrist and hip fractures, then nasty fractures of the elbows or the shoulder joints”, says Dr Fiona Lecky, research director of the Trauma Audit and Research Network and honorary consultant in emergency medicine at the University of Manchester and Salford Royal NHS trust. “I’ve also seen a few people who have landed on their bottom and injured their coccyx. If it’s cracked (but not out of position) there is no treatment other than painkillers. Keep mobile, sit on something soft and wait for it to heal. And make sure you don’t get constipated,” she sensibly warns.

Even a sprain can take six weeks to heal. Lecky says you should “elevate the limb and get the swelling down with ice in the first 24 hours. Stay as mobile as possible (once you know it’s not broken) but no heavy lifting or load bearing.” And last of all, “if you are going to sledge, wear a winter sports helmet: head injuries are the thing most likely to kill you.”

Hannah Pool

I’ve got no bread and cereal and can’t get out of the house. What can I have for breakfast?

The short answer is anything. The British breakfast menu – bready things smeared with jammy things, bone-dry cereals mined with dehydrated fruits turned to sludge with low-fat milk – are purely the product of convention. Given that, in Japan, it’s miso soup, pickles and fish, and in Egypt, pitta bread stuffed with falafel, we really can be led by appetite, and pass off indulgence as a matter of necessity.

What you need is something that sates the hunger, while also being manageable from what’s mouldering at the back of the fridge. The obvious solution has to be the Spanish tortilla. Long after everything else has run out, we always seem to have a few potatoes – so what if they are half-green? You can chop that bit off – onions, and a few eggs. Sure, supermarkets may stamp them with use-by dates, but the eggs never pay attention. They can last for months. Cook that lot up with whatever fat you have left and you will easily survive until dusk.

Jay Rayner

Should I let my pet out?

Snowy weather is not wonderful news for most pets, so it’s best to keep them indoors as much as possible. Rock salt and de-icers used on frozen pavements irritate cat and dog paws, and can be ingested if they lick their feet after a walk, say, or chomp on a large piece of ice. De-icer, needless to say, is extremely toxic for animals. Wash your dog’s paws after a walk to ensure they are clean and no grit has caught between their toes, then apply some vaseline. More dogs are lost in the winter than at any other time of year, because they lose their scent in the snow; be sure to keep yours on a lead.

Be aware that cats and other wildlife seeking warmth have a tendency to snuggle down on car engines during cold weather, so check under the bonnet or beep the horn to make sure any lurking critters skidaddle before you drive off.

Laura Barton

Is now a good time to learn to ski?

Probably not. For one thing, unless you live up a hill, skiing as a genuine mode of transport means cross-country skiing, which differs from alpine or holiday skiing in that all the fun parts have been taken out. There are no jumps, no ski-lifts and very few slopes, just hours of trudging your way across cold, flat snow.

A pair of skis will set you back £100 with another £200 for ski boots, poles and humiliatingly bright alpine clothing. But stretch your budget to around £1,000 and you could have your own sled and a pair of Siberian huskies. Faster, easier and more affectionate than a pair of skis, with the added bonus that when the snow melts they can be trained to pull you around in a shopping trolley.

Tom Meltzer

How Different Is The Winter Of 2010 To 1963?

(BBC) – ARCTIC WEATHER continues to create chaos across the UK in what some are saying is the coldest winter since 1963.

That winter, the snow started on Boxing Day 1962 and the big freeze lasted until March 1963.

Blizzards caused snowdrifts up to six metres deep, telephone lines were brought down and temperatures fell so low the sea froze over.

But with thousands of schools remaining shut, travel problems continuing and power cuts affecting thousands of homes, how different is it in 2010?

SCHOOLS

On Wednesday about 9,000 schools were shut across England, with 950 in Wales, and at least 250 in Scotland and 16 in Northern Ireland.

While some schools were forced to close in 1963, Peter Hennessy, Professor of Contemporary History at Queen Mary University of London, said the large number of closures this week indicated the UK had become a “health and safety nation”.

But he said people usually lived within walking distance of their schools in 1963 – while more parents and staff drive to school now – so snow on the roads has more impact on closures nowadays.

Wading to school through inches – not centimetres – of snow is something Christine Hewitt, 64, from Prudhoe, Northumberland, remembers well.

She said at the age of 18 she had no choice: “You put wellies on and walked. If you could get on a sledge, you went to school. Sledging was skiving.”

Cultural historian Christopher Cooke said the “technology of schools” had also changed.

He said: “You don’t hear of frozen loos – heating is much more efficient.

“In 1963 my brother was at primary school and had to break the ice in the toilets – he was told not to hit it too hard with the stick in case he broke the porcelain too.”

HOMES

On Thursday about 5,000 homes across southern England had no electricity because of falling trees on power lines and ice weighing down cables.

National Grid issued its second gas alert in three days – and demand was expected to hit a new record of 454 million cubic metres.

But Prof Cooke said it was a very different picture in 1963. Gas and electricity was restricted, most people had no central heating and some people had to resort to collecting coal from frozen depots.

“A few had gas or fuel burners but most people relied on gas fires in one room or had no fires at all.

“Maybe they had a water bottle to warm the bed,” he said.

“I remember waking up to find the inside of my window completely iced up,” he added.

He said central heating had made a huge amount of difference.

“Everything is warmer, pipes don’t freeze outside the home because of the amount of warmth being lost from houses. In 1963, cold water tanks froze – there was a constant fear of pipes bursting,” he said.

Frozen pipes affected thousands of people in 1963, with some getting drinking water from corporation carts driven round the streets.

By 24 January water was being rationed in Wales, as the Water Board struggled to get supplies from reservoirs.

TRANSPORT

Freezing temperatures and icy roads have created “nightmare” road conditions in 2010 and rail services have been severely disrupted.

Air travel has been beset by delays and cancellations.

Many councils are limiting gritting to major roads only as salt supplies are stretched.

Roads faced similar disruption in 1963, but former policeman Tom Taylor, 68, from Gloucester, said the biggest problem was not a lack of grit – but a relentless, blustering wind.

“It was an unbelievable winter – I used to go out on the beat and on snow patrol in the Cotswolds, sometimes in a land rover recovery vehicle, and find people stuck in snowdrifts.

“Most of the country roads were impassable – the wind was horrendous. A snow plough would go down a road, but the wind kept blowing snow back onto the road and it would refill within hours – this went on week after week,” he said.

“It was bitterly cold – I used to wear my pyjamas under my police uniform,” he said.

There were hardly any motorways – the M1 had only opened in 1959.

But Prof Cooke said parts of the sea – and the whole canal system – froze at a time when canals were still being used to transport goods.

He recalled one train having to be “dug out of the snow”.

At Coaley Junction in Gloucestershire, the mail train froze and a fire had to be lit underneath it to defrost parts of the engine.

SPORTING FIXTURES

Sporting fixtures have continued to fall foul of the weather, with race meetings at Kempton and Lingfield having been called off and the weekend’s racing, rugby and football fixtures under threat.

But that was nothing compared to 1963 – when the third round of FA Cup took 66 days to complete – according to Prof Cooke.

Most horseracing events in the winter of 1963 were also cancelled, he said.

Amid the hardship however a new sport took off – ice yachting.

Pam Gershon, from Harrow, recalls land yachts on wheels being sailed on the frozen Welsh Harp reservoir in north west London.

Christmas Road, Rail And Air Chaos As UK Grinds To A Halt

(Guardian) – BRITONS were last night steeling themselves for one of the most fraught Christmas getaways in years, as bad weather and snow closed major airports, paralysed roads and disrupted train services.

As the UK again found itself struggling to cope with a winter snap, transport operators warned that the backlog caused by cancellations of flights and train services could threaten the travel plans of many more people in the coming days.

Already, anyone holding a Eurostar ticket to travel to France today will not be able to go before Christmas Eve, as the company struggles to process the backlog of passengers after the three-day suspension of service caused by the wrong sort of snow in northern France.

Though the shuttle between London and the rest of Europe was set to reopen at 7.30am today, only those with tickets for the weekend will be allowed to board.

Snow caused numerous delays in air travel as Gatwick airport’s runway was shut for a number of hours and Luton suspended flights yesterday. Many flights bound for both airports were diverted to East Midlands, causing a knock-on effect as planes were left overnight at the wrong airport. Cancellations were also reported at Stansted, Aberdeen and Bristol.

British Airways cancelled all European and UK domestic flights out of Heathrow after 7pm, and services from London City and Gatwick were “significantly disrupted”.

A spokesman for easyJet said that all flights from Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and Milan would be grounded this morning. He added that the airline could not guarantee that everyone trying to travel before Christmas would be able to. “I don’t think any transport provider could be confident everyone will be able to get to where they want to go.”

The AA reported its busiest day for breakdowns in a decade yesterday. Some 16,000 breakdowns were recorded by mid-afternoon, compared with the winter average of 10,000 a day.

The AA’s president, Edmund King, advised drivers not to expect rescue services to reach them if they ignored warnings and ventured out in the worst affected areas.

“Whenever there is bad weather, authorities always warn people not to undertake non-essential journeys, and usually I would take that with a pinch of salt. But on this occasion, I really would warn people that if they choose to travel they must remember rescue vehicles may well be unable to reach them,” King said. He said Basingstoke and Reading were totally cut off for a time yesterday as major roads were gridlocked by the bad weather.

“Ring roads turned into ice rinks, and councils either didn’t seem to be gritting in time, or didn’t use enough grit and salt. In Basingstoke, the council didn’t seem to start gritting until 2:30pm, by which point it had been snowing for an hour and a half.”

The weather onslaught has come at the worst time for rail companies, which have reported a surge in domestic passenger demand this Christmas, fuelled by fear of airline disruption. The Association of Train Operating Companies said 814,000 advance tickets were sold in the first 10 days of December, 12.5% up on last year.

Network Rail is carrying out £100m of investment and 730,000 man-hours of engineering work over Christmas, markedly less than in recent years when mainline services were beset by delays after Christmas. There will be 8,000 more trains and 44% fewer replacement bus services than last year. Engineering works likely to cause most rail disruption are on the line between Bristol and Newport.

The cold weather is expected to continue for the rest of the week, with daytime temperatures rarely above 3C (37F) or 4C, and with temperatures of –5C to -7C common at night, said the Met Office. Heavy snow warnings have been issued for today in many parts of the Midlands and southern England.

Tomorrow and Thursday there will be sunny spells with showers falling as rain or snow, but not as heavy as in recent days. Christmas Day is likely to start sunny before a front moves in from the west, bringing rain or snow.

Commuters Face Chaos As Snow Is Forecast For Essex

(Independent) – COMMUTERS CAN EXPECT TRAVEL CHAOS TOMORROW after forecasters predicted significant snowfall in the South-east of England. The Met Office issued a 24-hour severe weather warning for Friday, saying that travel networks might be affected.

Up to 10cm of snow could fall on low ground and 20cm over hills in Essex, Kent, Sussex, Surrey, London and parts of East Anglia, forecasters said. Heavy snow was also forecast in parts of central and northern England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Sarah Holland, a Met Office forecaster, said: “We have a severe weather warning out for West Sussex, Surrey, Kent, Essex and Suffolk for Friday.”

A blast of cold air from Russia brought a light dusting of snow to central London yesterday, falling on Christmas shoppers and office workers before turning to rain in the afternoon.

The wintry conditions have sparked concern that a shortage of grit may lead to a repeat of the chaotic scenes earlier this year, when a foot of snow fell in some areas. The Highways Agency said: “The snowfall in February was the worst the UK has seen for at least 18 years and was a tough test of our winter preparations.

“We were well prepared for the severe weather and able to help a number of local highway authorities experiencing difficulties with shortfalls in their salt levels.”

The early snowfall prompted bookmakers to cut the odds on a white Christmas in London. Ladbrokes was offering 5/2, among the lowest odds ever.

Rupert Adams, spokesman for William Hill, said: “The million-pound snowflake is something we have always talked about in hushed tones and, for the first time this millennium, it looks like we could get collared.”

Sub-zero temperatures are expected to continue at least until the weekend. The lowest temperature, recorded on Tuesday night, was -7.4C at Charlwood, near Gatwick Airport.