CHAOS descended on Hampshire for the second time in under a month as an Arctic blast of snow ripped across the south – and it could be set to continue with more snow falling today.
Over the weekend, trains were cancelled, planes grounded at Southampton Airport and motorists left spinning helplessly on black ice as up to 10cm of snow blanketed the county in a matter of hours at the weekend.
But weather experts have warned there will be no let up in the bitter cold snap with bookmakers last night slashing the odds on a white Christmas.
A weather warning has been issued with snow currently falling across the county – and more is expected again tomorrow.
Southampton International Airport closed shortly before 10am, while staff cleared the runway, before reopening a short time later.
On Saturday, ambulance crews were forced to delay call outs to minor injuries and police 4x4 vehicles were out in force as emergency services battled to keep up with a flurry of 999 calls on Saturday morning.
Temperatures plummeted to minus 10 c in rural parts as icy winds swept across the county in what has become the coldest December in decades.
Those who had to take to the roads were faced with treacherous conditions – even though Hampshire County Council’s fleet of salting trucks had been out in force overnight in a bid to keep key routes moving.
Motorists were reduced to snail pace on the M27 when the downfall was at its heaviest on Saturday, with outer lanes completely covered.
The A3 was shut both ways close to the county’s border at Bramshott, resulting in miles of tailbacks for beleaguered drivers.
The disruption over the weekend failed to stop an army of shoppers descending on Southampton in what was one of the biggest retail weekends of the year.
Police advised partygoers and anyone heading for a night on the town to “dress appropriately for the weather”.
And drivers were urged to pack warm clothes, a flask of hot drink, food, a shovel and a fully charged mobile phone, in case they got stuck.
NHS bosses urged patients to help reduce the pressure on health facilities during the cold snap by only using services “when absolutely necessary”.
Pam Hobbs, Director of Finance and Resources for NHS Southampton City said: “The current snow, cold temperatures and icy conditions we are experiencing mean the NHS in Southampton is dealing with exceptional circumstances over and above normal winter pressures.
“The local NHS and partner organisations are continuing to work together to ensure that patients still have suitable access to care, with a particular focus on those requiring urgent treatment.’’ At Southampton Airport, frustrated passengers had to wait that little bit longer to make their Christmas getaways after the runway was closed.
Staff worked through the early morning to clear the way for planes to take off and – despite a knock-on delays – services were back up and running by 1pm on Saturday.
A special timetable with fewer scheduled trips was rolled out by bosses at South West Trains and First bus announced a series of disruptions to its services on its website.
Meanwhile, thousands of families woke up to a winter wonderland on Saturday morning before pulling on their hats and gloves for some snow-based fun.
Hampshire could witness its first white Christmas in years, with bookies slashing odds.