THE Big Freeze was gripping the Bristol area this weekend as the region endured its coldest winter in 20 years.
Yesterday, the story was of motorists slipping and sliding into work on sludge-bound roads, while children stayed home as the vast majority of schools remained closed.
Heavy snowfall early yesterday and accidents closed roads across the West and made others impassable. Motorists made their way in and out of work as best they could.
Minor accidents were reported across the region. Motorists’ organisation, the RAC, described them as “a few bumps and shunts”.
In Bristol, the A37 Wells Road at Totterdown became impassable as vans, lorries and cars were abandoned on Happy Landings Hill.
There were problems too on the A369 between Portishead and Bristol, on the A38 south of the city, on the A46 and, in the city itself, on St Michael’s Hill, on Whiteladies Road, on the A4 at West Town Lane, on Bridge Valley Road, just off the Downs, and on the A420 in St George.
And both Severn bridges – for the first time ever – were shut after five motorists reported windscreens shattered by chunks of ice falling from the gantries.
That blocked the M4 and M48, but otherwise motorway traffic was able to keep moving, with a 30mph speed limit imposed but up to three lanes in both directions on the M4 and M5 kept open.
Blagdon was entirely cut off for several hours before North Somerset Council’s snow ploughs came to the rescue, clearing the A368 into the village.
First buses were off the roads until mid-afternoon, although other firms managed to keep their services running.
Flights from Bristol International Airport were cancelled, shoppers stayed at home unless they wanted to buy a sledge – but hospitals were open for business as usual.
Plummeting temperatures – which have plunged as low as -10°C in some rural areas – mean the main problem will be dangerously icy roads.
Main routes were being gritted, but stocks of rock salt are falling and councils warned side roads would not be treated.
Bristol City Council spokesman Simon Caplan said: “We are down to our last 50 tonnes, but we are getting another 360 tonnes, so we will be gritting all A roads and commuter routes.
“But roads will still be slippery in places and we urge motorists to travel only if they absolutely need to and then to do so with care.”
Some motorists questioned whether enough had been done to clear main routes.
But Bristol City Council and the West’s other local authorities said they had gritted main roads several times overnight and brought in snow ploughs where necessary – as they had the previous night.
Even the RAC said councils had done the best they could with limited budgets and the coldest winter in two decades.
Spokesman Adrian Tink said: “I have a lot of sympathy with councils. They’ve been operating to the best of their ability, but it’s a once-in-20-years event and it’s very difficult to plan for.
“However, that is cold comfort for motorists. They pay £45 billion a year in taxes and overall they’ve had pretty poor service this week.”
By late morning, as the overnight snowstorm cleared, at least one council, North Somerset, was advising motorists to leave work early.
“We want everyone off the roads by 5pm because that’s when temperatures will drop below zero,” said a spokeswoman.
The A38 was “passable with care”, with “extreme caution” needed between Sidcot and Bristol, the authority said mid-morning.
A spokesman said there were snow ploughs on the A38 continuously. By early afternoon, North Somerset said A roads were all passable and snow ploughs were now being concentrated on B roads.
Police yesterday morning urged all drivers only to get in their cars if it was absolutely necessary and to avoid minor roads if possible.
Taxi firms found their phone lines jammed with calls yesterday morning as commuters tried to get a lift to work.
Cabbies were struggling to pick people up, and had to ask passengers to meet them on main roads rather than drive down the treacherous side roads.
Eurotaxis, based in Westerleigh, Bristol, described business as “absolutely manic”.
Yesterday morning, the A369 was blocked by heavy snow near Dennyview Road, Abbots Leigh. A lorry became stuck and cars got into difficulties after they tried to turn around.
In Bristol, a jack-knifed Somerfield lorry on Blackboy Hill near the former Woolworths store led to long queues on Whiteladies Road.
Bristol City Council said at 9.30am that the A4 at West Town Lane was “particularly difficult” and the Wells Road (A37) at Happy Landing Hill was practically impassable.
Spokesman Mr Caplan said Whiteladies Road was extremely difficult to navigate.
Traffic on the A420 had been delayed due to a heavy goods vehicle becoming stuck at the Fountain junction of Church Road and Summerhill, St George.
Bridge Valley Road, just off the Downs, was closed because of a fallen tree.
Mr Caplan said the council had dealt with particular calls for extra assistance at St Michael’s Hill, Kingsdown, “as vehicles struggled to cope with the conditions on this steep hill”.
In South Gloucestershire, the council reported that its street care department had been working throughout the night, gritting around 300 miles of roads.
A spokesman said: “Ploughs are currently working to clear snow from the roads, before applying another treatment.
“Staff are responding to requests for assistance from the public as quickly as they are able to.”