A blanket of snow several inches deep carpeted parts of Northern Ireland today, as about 300 schools shut their doors and roughly 1,500 bus journeys were cancelled – but other parts were left virtually untouched by the blizzard-like conditions.
Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Barclay Bell said the Province appeared “divided”, with Armagh and Down bearing the brunt of the snow.
He told the News Letter that on Wednesday night he left a UFU meeting in Cookstown with no hint of snow, but then found conditions “really, really tricky” in Portadown.
And once he neared his Rathfriland home it was so bad he was forced to abandon his car five miles from the house, and call a Jeep to get him.
Readers sent images to the News Letter yesterday showing the extent of the snow in their areas, including a car almost totally obscured in a drift in Newtownhamilton, Armagh.
However, other areas were almost totally untouched.
For example, while the snow in Stormont (east Belfast) was thick enough for children to go sledging, in a belt from Newtownabbey, just to the north of the city, to Larne on the east coast, members of the public shared images showing totally green fields.
Mr Bell said farmers who are in snow-hit areas had reported problems with access to water and the ability to transport milk, and there are also concerns for the impact on sheep, given the snow has struck in the middle of lambing season.
“For livestock farmers, the biggest issue at the present time is frozen pipes and trying to get water to animals – a dairy cow could drink 100 litres in a day,” he said.
“Collection of milk – tankers trying to get down farm lanes – would be an issue as well. It just means you’re probably working twice as hard because it just takes so much longer to get everything done.”
Five years ago this month, Northern Ireland had been hit by an incredible slew of snow, which buried flocks and led to mass fatalities of sheep.
“At this stage we haven’t heard of significant losses,” he said. “But obviously with those sort of temperatures and the wind chill factor ... it’s not good for a young lamb arriving.”
He also raised the prospect of problems getting fodder to animals if the snow persists.
WHAT ABOUT SERVICES?
The Department for Education said roughly 300 schools had closed yesterday – all but 50-or-so being in the south and south-east regions.
As of about 10pm last night, about 330 had confirmed that they will be closed today – again, mainly in the south (to keep up-to-date, see this web address: www.education-ni.gov.uk/news/school-closures).
Thursday’s weather conditions caused widespread travel disruption, with Translink saying around 13% – approximately 1,500 – out of its 12,000 bus journeys were cancelled, plus two trains, while the Belfast-Dublin rail service is not expected to run at all on Friday.
Meanwhile, as of about 6pm, 18 flights at Belfast International Airport (carrying 2,600 passengers) had been cancelled, with almost two dozen cancellations at Belfast City Airport too.
The Health and Social Care Board said the health system was “continuing to cope”, though in the Southern Health Trust area, nearly all hospital outpatients clinics were cancelled – something set to continue on Friday.
HOW BAD HAS IT BEEN, AND WILL IT GET WORSE?
The lowest temperature in Northern Ireland on Thursday was -6.3C, recorded by the Met Office just after midnight in Derrylin, Fermanagh.
However this did not compare with the Great Britain low of -10.3C in Scotland.
Sophie Yeomans, Met Office forecaster, said as of about 7pm, Northern Ireland’s highest snow reading was about 25cm (10 inches), lying at Glennane, Co Armagh.
Though she did not have access to readings from all stations in the Province, she “wouldn’t be surprised if there are a couple that had either nothing or a bit of frosting”.
After lows of perhaps -4C overnight tonight, she expects daytime temperatures on Friday to be “not scraping much above zero” – with a maximum possible temperature of only around 2C.
And in terms of snow, she anticipates Friday will bring much the same as Thursday, with it concentrated in the south of Northern Ireland.
“This system called ‘Storm Emma’ which has pushed up from the south will bring persistent snow to parts of Northern Ireland, but northern areas might just scrape out without any,” she said.
“Over the weekend it does look like temperatures are going to lift slightly.”
But this still only means “you’re looking at highs probably reaching 3C or 4C – so obviously still really cold”.
Though Storm Emma is unlikely to progress much northwards it is likely to result in more snow being dumped at the weekend – though this may fall as rain in parts.
With snow not melting and being compacted, ice is “probably going to be one of the main hazards as we go through the next few days”.
And into next week, it looks set to be just as cold as the weekend, she added.