“Global warming? What’s that?” sceptics were asking on Tuesday as snow, ice and freezing temperatures continued to disrupt life across much of the United Kingdom, especially in the north, defying the weatherman’s predications of a mild winter.

Several airports, including the Manchester airport used by India-bound travellers, were forced to close; rail services suffered heavy disruption; hundreds of schools extended their winter holidays; and a number of sporting events were cancelled as the country braced itself for what was described as the coldest winter in 30 years.

Emergency services struggled to cope with distress calls from stranded motorists. As driving conditions worsened and the met office predicted more bad weather, motorists were warned to make only essential journeys. Motorists’ organisations had a field day with the Automobile Association alone reporting more than 25,000 breakdowns in 24 hours. The problem was compounded by shortages of gritters, vehicles which are used to spread grit or salt on icy roads.

Commuters faced severe train and bus delays and air travellers were advised not to leave their homes without first confirming the status of their flights as hundreds of flights —domestic as well as international — were delayed creating chaos at airports.

“From what people say, it’s certainly the worst situation they have seen and can remember for a few years,” Sky News reported amid wall-to-wall television coverage of the country’s Big Freeze.

There was little comfort even for those who stayed home as the National Grid, which supplies gas, warned of a shortage following a dramatic rise in demand.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown was forced to play down fears of a gas crisis after the Tories fuelled panic claiming that Britain had only eight days of gas stock left.

“There are always difficulties when we have a long spell of bad weather,” Mr Brown said denying the Tories’ claim.

As Britons shivered in the “big chill,” the only heat came from the rhetoric of rival political parties as they embarked on a long general election campaign.

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