Winter swept back into Shropshire today – as the cost of dealing with the last big freeze was revealed.
Gritters were out in force across the county overnight and temperatures hovered around freezing point as snow, sleet and ice made a return less than a fortnight after blizzard conditions brought disruption to the county.
Up to 10cm (4in) of snow was expected to fall by this afternoon, with parts of north Shropshire waking up to find 7.62cm (3in) had already fallen overnight.
And the wind chill is expected to leave the county shivering in temperatures which could feel as low as -6C (21.2F). Drivers have been warned to expect more disruption as snow, sleet and rain form icy stretches on roads and pavements.
In Telford, passengers waiting for the number 44 bus through Woodside were facing delays as the buses struggled with slippery conditions.
A spokesman for the Met Office said the snow could last until the end of the week in higher areas, with winds of about 50mph expected to batter the county.
He said: “We’ve had an icy start to the day with widespread sleet and snow showers blowing through on the strong wind. Winds will gust to around 50mph near the heavier showers, but higher over hills.
“Showers will be turning back to rain at low levels and there will be some clear spells overnight, but also occasional wintry outbreaks, with more significant snow showers to come.”
The return of the wintry weather came as the huge cost of keeping Shropshire moving during the last spell was revealed – with a quarter of a million pounds spent on salt.
In a nine-day period from January 18 to 26 Shropshire Council’s gritters spread 7,000 tonnes of salt around the county at a cost of £250,000. The fleet of 25 gritters were in action round-the-clock on six of the nine days.
The gritters are run by the council and their highway contractors Ringway.
They took care of all of the county’s A and B roads as well as other high risk routes such as those by schools and hospitals. That equals 28 per cent of the highways network or 950 miles of road.
The rest of the network is looked after by 120 farmers/contractors, who use up to 200 tractor-mounted snowploughs, 25 tractor-mounted gritters and 12 snowblowers.
Simon Jones, cabinet member responsible for highways, said: “I’ve been very impressed with the way everyone worked tirelessly to keep the county moving throughout the period of heavy snow and ice.
“We’ve got plenty of salt left, too, so we’re fully prepared for any further cold weather.”
So far this winter the council has used 14,298 tonnes of salt. It has 14,100 tonnes left, with 2,200 tonnes on order.
Councillor Peggy Mullock, mayor of Whitchurch, said she was impressed with the gritters.
She said: “We were very pleased that they came and did the town centre early to help people get about doing their shopping. As soon as the snow started they seemed to come out and tried to clear the pavements too, that was a great help.
“The service has been better than in previous years and people in the town have recognised that.”
Alan Clarke, mayor of Ellesmere, added: “The roads were well gritted. Some of the pavements were bad at times but the roads were definitely alright.
“I think this year they were on top of the schedule rather than chasing it.”
Councillor Steve Glover, mayor of Market Drayton, said: “I was quite pleased with the way they’d taken notice of the weather warnings and got out there and did the necessary work.”
There was some good news as beleaguered retailers weathered last month’s snowstorms.
Figures released today showed that sales were boosted by shoppers tempted out with new year offers and promotions.
The British Retail Consortium said like-for-like January retail sales grew at the fastest rate since December 2011, up 1.9 per cent on the previous year, as shoppers also bought televisions, tablet computers and smartphones.
BRC director general Helen Dickinson said sales suffered during the cold snap, but it was short-lived and failed to cancel out the positive showing across the month.
She said: “People were tempted out by offers and promotions but also treated themselves to full-priced and premium products early in January.”