Blizzards cause chaos across Sussex

Blizzards caused travel chaos as Sussex endured its heaviest spring snowfall in decades.

The county experienced a total whiteout when an unseasonal Arctic blast swept down from the north.

Traffic ground to a standstill on ungritted roads, flights at Gatwick were delayed, and train and bus services hit.

Heavy snow started falling at around 8am on Sunday and continued well into the afternoon, leaving an icy blanket 6cms deep in places.

Supermarkets usually packed with Sunday shoppers were virtually empty as people heeded warnings to stay at home.

But hundreds of families took advantage of the wintry chill and headed for the Downs to go sledging or build snowmen.

Beaches which this time last year were crowded with sun-worshippers basking in summer-style heat were virtually deserted.

Weathermen said the average temperature for April was generally 10C or 11C, but yesterday it barely touched 3C.

West Sussex County Council admitted it was caught out by the snow and had failed to grit the roads.

But Brighton and Hove City Council and East Sussex County Council said they heeded warnings and sent the gritters out.

Even so, several bus routes in Brighton became impassable, including those serving the city's university campuses, Stanmer Park, Hollingbury and Coldean.

Roger French, managing director of Brighton and Hove Bus Company said at the height of the blizzard: "The situation is changing all the time. It is up and down depending on the state of the hills.

"Sometimes a bus can get up a hill, but the next bus can't."

Southern Railway said train services were delayed by about ten minutes, but none were cancelled.

At Gatwick, flights were grounded as snow covered the runway, forcing its temporary closure.

EasyJet said it cancelled six flights to British airports and Amsterdam.

Among the passengers left waiting for the weather to clear was a party from Littlehampton Community School due to fly to Berlin for a history trip.

Teacher Emma Balfour said: "It's frustrating for us but there's obviously nothing anyone can do about it so we're just hoping it will clear soon and we can get on our way."

A spokesman for East Sussex County Council said it gritted its entire road network on Saturday night.

Twenty-five gritters, each carrying up to nine tonnes of salt, covered 840 miles of the county's busiest roads.

But West Sussex County Council said the snow came as a surprise.

A spokesman said: "We weren't expecting there to be such an accumulation of snow. That was a bit of a surprise.

"The forecast was that the temperature would not be falling below zero which is why we didn't send any vehicles out."

He admitted gritters and a snow plough were only sent out onto the roads after the blizzard struck.

Mark Warwick, 27, was on his way home from Brighton to Worthing when the blizzard struck.

He said: "I haven't seen such heavy snowfall here ever. The weather seemed to turn very quickly and it got very difficult on the road. They hadn't been gritted so cars were sliding quite a bit."

Coun Brian Oxley, leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, said: "The gritters were out on Saturday night and again on Sunday morning, but because the snow was so widespread and so prolonged it was difficult."

On the A27 and A23, many cars and lorries slowed to around 15mph.

Sussex Police received 105 snow-related calls, mainly to minor traffic incidents, by 1.30pm.

One came from a family trapped in their home in the Chichester area.

Officers closed the road leading to Ditchling Beacon, and there were long delays on the A259 between Eastbourne and East Dean, and the A283 at Eartham, near Chichester.

Inspector Ian Byford said: "Cars have been slipping off roads and roads have been blocked -all due to the weather."

A spokesman for the Met Office said the snow began falling at about 7am in the north-west of the county and moved south and east during the day.

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