Britain’s coldest winter for 30 years may have left the idyllic sight of Founder’s draped in snow but in many cases it caused chaos, virtually bringing the country to a standstill. Just when the initial snowfall was beginning to thaw, and a degree of normality had returned, another heavy fall meant that wrapping up and donning winter boots is set to stay for a while yet, with some experts predicting more icy weather to come.
While the main routes on campus have been kept clear, some areas such as around the back gate remained incredibly icy, providing the entertaining sight of students waddling down the slippery slope as they try to remain on their feet. Some areas of campus were closed off altogether, such as the main steps up to the International Building, as snow falling off roofs became another difficulty – with students looking up warily at snow perched ominously on the edge of its sloping roof. Medicine and The Stumble Inn also stayed closed as the steep slope to reach them was deemed too dangerous an obstacle to navigate down, let alone up.
On January 5th, six inches of snow fell overnight in the Runnymede area. While this created some postcard scenes, such as Virginia Water lake being frozen over, this has been overshadowed by stories of students who have returned to their houses only to find their pipes frozen or boilers broken.
Many departments cancelled lectures, as staff could not get onto campus. The English department even decided to cancel all lectures on the first day of term the Friday before. While students celebrated with the inevitable snowball fights in Founder’s quads, schoolchildren across the country also made the most of hundreds of schools being closed. January A Level and GCSE exams meant many pupils did have to make the difficult journey into school, however exams watchdog Ofqual said that in cases where candidates were disadvantaged by the weather, applications could be made for “special consideration”, which involves pupils being awarded up to an extra 5% of the maximum marks.
Many students faced severe difficulties in returning to Royal Holloway after the Christmas vacation as transport systems were disrupted with airports closed and flights delayed, train services limited or non-existent, and roads treacherous to drive on. Many people across the UK were forced to sleep in their cars for a night as they were literally snowed in on the motorways, while passengers discovered the hard way that Eurostar trains react badly to cold weather when trains broke down in the tunnel and remained there for fourteen hours.
Meanwhile stockpiles of gritting salt held by councils for roads began to run thin, prompting concern over the safety of roads as some areas have started to cut back on road gritting. Surrey County Council stockpiled 9,000 tonnes of salt and grit but last week these reserves were already in need of replenishment. In an average winter, 6,000 tonnes of grit is spread across Surrey, yet this year 4,000 tonnes has been used in one week.
But it isn’t just grit which is running out – the National Grid issued a warning to power suppliers to use less gas last week following a 30% rise on normal seasonal demand. It has urged power firms to switch to coal, and order more gas supplies from Belgium and Norway. Fears of being trapped in their houses also led to people panic buying.
Staff at Tesco in Egham reported that the shop was even busier in the bad weather than in the run up to Christmas, with people stocking up on tins of food, bread and pasta.