Blizzards and freezing temperatures shut down runways, train tracks and highways across Europe on Saturday, disrupting flights and leaving shivering drivers stranded on roadsides.
Airports in Britain, Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark reported cancelations or delays to flights.
London’s Gatwick airport closed its runway - despite the efforts of 150 staff using 47 snow plows, while British Airways suspended all flights from Heathrow.
“Heathrow is fully operational but we are expecting more snow and planning for the worst,” the airport, Europe’s busiest, said in a statement. “BA passengers must stay at home as all BA flights are canceled. At this time there are no significant delays at other terminals.”
Hundreds of motorists were left stranded on the major M6 route in northwestern England following a deluge, prompting police patrols to offer food and water to drivers.
Darron Burness, of Britain’s Automobile Association, said conditions on U.K. roads were treacherous. “One of the biggest problems is that large amounts of snow are falling very quickly on to frozen surfaces, making driving hazardous,” he said.
In Italy, the Autostrada of the Sun - the country’s main north-south highway - was jammed with hundreds of vehicles, whose chilly occupants slept in their cars, vans or trucks. Though snow had mainly cleared or melted early Saturday, the highway was still closed in one direction, with traffic backed up for nearly 25 miles (40 kilometers).
The snowfall also forced high-speed trains to bypass Florence’s central Santa Maria Novella station, stopping in suburban stations instead.
Paris was sprinkled with a light coat of snow overnight, as many people prepared to set off on their Christmas vacations. More snow was predicted on Saturday, leading civil aviation authorities to cancel 15 percent of flights at Charles de Gaulle airport between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. local time.
Many flights were also cancelled in northeastern France, where snow already blanketed the ground, and services were also canceled at the airports in the cities of Nantes and Rennes.
Some 200 flights were canceled at Frankfurt airport, Germany’s biggest, a spokesman for airport operator Fraport said. He said that was largely to do with disruption to schedules caused by problems elsewhere in Europe, while all runways at Frankfurt itself were clear.
Mark Seltzer, a weather forecaster with Britain’s Met Office, said the U.K. may experience its coldest December on record. “Temperatures will struggle to get over freezing and although the snow should ease off tonight, it will return to eastern areas on Sunday,” he said.
Police in Leicester, central England, said the snowy weather had helped uncover a cannabis factory in the city. Officers raided the premises after spotting that snow had melted on the building’s roof as a result of heat from industrial-strength lights used in the cultivation of the drug.
Horse racing meetings and dozens of soccer games in England and Scotland were called off as a result of the conditions, including a high profile match scheduled for Sunday in London between Chelsea and Manchester United.