Europe Faces "Brrden" of Winter

After the Iceland volcano chaos of last spring the European traveler is buffeted by an Arctic winter. Airlines, trains, roads impasssable.

Amiel Ungar, | updated: 18:06

Walderveense, Netherlands
Walderveense, Netherlands

It all may have a logical explantation - Arctic air from Canada blocking the warming Atlantic jetstream - but for Britain this is the coldest December on record and it is fast turning into a nightmare for UK residents.

The story of cold and disrupted transportation was repeated all over Western and Eastern Europe. The airport closings and cancellations had repercussions for passengers emplaning and debarking for points outside of Europe as well. Chaos caused by the snow and ice is making a shambles of vacation plans and even mundane travel.

 Police had to be called in to Frankfurt Airport, Germany's major gateway and Europe's busiest airport, when passengers began fighting between themselves. Passengers who had spent hours at the airport following their flights' cancellation were discomfited by the arrival of new passengers who expected to depart on time and surged to the check in counters. Germany's Lufthansa blamed the Frankfurt airport company, complaining it was not de-icing jets fast enough. The airport company conceded flaws in a new computer system designed to plan takeoffs and landings but fired back at the airlines. It claimed that the airline decision to skimp on reserve crews as an economy measure compounded the delays.

Similar passenger resentment piled up literally and figuratively at London Heathrow that closed on Saturday. Passengers complained about being "left to fend for themselves", lack of information and care and general chaotic conditions.

Dozens of flights were also canceled at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport on Saturday, after about 3,000 people had been forced to spend the night at the airport on Friday, where they were provided with 1,700 cots. Passengers at Charles De Gaulle were relatively lucky experiencing only 40 to 50 minute delays, but in Northern France and Alsace departments were on "orange" snow alert.

Roads and rail did not provide a more reliable and secure alternative. In Italy, some people reportedly spent 15 hours in the freezing conditions after being caught in snowstorms on motorways between the cities of Florence and Bologna. 5000 had to be accommodated in a Florence conference hall.

The high-speed Eurostar trains from London to Brussels and Paris - a fall back during last spring's volcano crisis -were placed under strict speed restrictions beginning on Friday.  

Traffic was snarled on the German autobahns with one traffic jam near Leverkeusen stretching for 40km. Frustrated passengers who were sustained by Red Cross blankets and tea went to sleep in their cars and had to be awakened by police when traffic resumed.

In Ireland the army was called in to help sand the roads where ice had built up. In Aberdeen, Scotland a woman traveled 4 miles in four and a half hours given the roads coated with black ice.

While the postal services are presumably impervious to rain snow and gloom of night this was proven incorrect as holiday cards and parcels are delayed by the weather. Denmark reported that postal service employees had sustained an usually high number of injuries -- including broken limbs in the last month due to the weather.

Even staying at home was not always a pleasant option. The weather disrupted supplies of food and energy particularly in mountainous terrain.

British Energy Minister Charles Hendry warned that more bad weather over Christmas could lead to "very serious" shortages of domestic heating oil.

Speaking in parliament, he said higher demand along with delayed deliveries and soaring oil prices meant homes might have to wait as long as four weeks for supplies.