Most of western Britain, Northern Ireland and northern Scotland suffered blizzards while the south was also disrupted in what Transport Secretary Philip Hammond described as “extraordinary” conditions.
Two of the country’s busiest airports were affected, with British Airways cancelling all flights from London Heathrow and all European and domestic flights from London Gatwick between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Arctic conditions also hit rail and road travel, with the media reporting that hundreds of motorists were left stranded in their cars in freezing conditions overnight in the northwest, with many accidents reported.
“We will be doing what we can to keep the transport network moving, but as I think is clear … these are really quite extraordinary weather conditions, and we are expecting more heavy snow during the course of the day, particularly in southern England,” Hammond told BBC radio.
It is the third winter in a row that Britain has been left largely snowbound, and hit by record low temperatures.
Hammond said he had asked the country’s chief scientific adviser to see if it represents a “step change” in weather patterns due to climate change and whether the government needs to spend more money on winter preparations.
Some of the worst affected areas included Merseyside with 12-18 centimetres of snow, and southwest England and Wales with 5 to 10 cm (2-4 inches), the Met Office said on its website.
The snow will blow into parts of the southeast England and the south Midlands during Saturday.
Researchers warned on Thursday the severe weather conditions could push retailers into the red over the peak Christmas trading period, though a survey on Wednesday showed British retail sales rising at their fastest pace since 2002.
Some shoppers, hoping to avoid the treacherous conditions by purchasing presents online, faced disappointment after it was reported items were stockpiled in warehouses, with companies unable to deliver by road or rail.
Hammond said there was enough salt to deal with “a normal severe winter,” but in extreme conditions it was less effective.