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Grit crisis 'critical' as Wales is forced to ration scarce supplies; Which roads to help? The grim choice is here.

Byline: Lisa Jones

ONLY key roads were being gritted in some parts of Wales last night as grit supplies reached critical levels in some Welsh counties.

As forecasters predicted heavy rain, turning to snow in many places, councils were facing the stark choice of deciding which roads needed the dwindling grit.

Caerphilly Council last night said its stock of grit was at "an all-time low", and was planning to grit only A roads and other key strategic routes.

A spokesman said: "We will maintain key areas such as cemeteries when burials are necessary, the kitchens providing food for Meals on Wheels services and bus stations in Caerphilly and Blackwood.

"The stocks of salt are not likely to reach a satisfactory minimum level for the foreseeable future and therefore this programme will remain unchanged until further notice."

It had been a difficult decision and the gravity of the situation should not be underestimated.

The authority also announced the closure of 14 of its 91 schools last night, with more closures expected to be confirmed today.

Meanwhile, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council said it was facing "another very difficult couple of days ahead."

Cabinet member for transport, Councillor Andrew Morgan said: "Our salt stock is critically low and we are endeavouring to secure additional orders, but so far this is not forthcoming which is why we have reduced our road treatment service while continuing to pressurise the Welsh Assembly for assistance. The main road network is of course a priority, but motorists must heed the warnings that treacherous conditions are expected."

The grit used on the UK's roads is made from crushed rock salt and from three main mines - the Salt Union's Winsford Rock Salt Mine in Cheshire, Cleveland Potash in Teesside and the Irish Salt Mining and Exploration Company in County Antrim. Production at Salt Union's mine has been stepped up and it has been working 24 hours a day since the beginning of January.

The Welsh Assembly Government said it was doing everything it could to solve the salt crisis.

A spokesman said: "We are working together with the UK Government and local authorities in Wales to ensure that supplies of salt are prioritised to reach where they are most needed and as soon as possible."

The pressure on grit stocks looks set to continue with the bad weather which has left Wales as cold as Iceland, showing no sign of abating.

A third cold weather front is set to sweep in from the Atlantic bringing further snow, sleet and freezing temperatures that could last well into next week, the Met Office said.

Met Office meteorologist Barry Gromit said: "This is the coldest winter in Wales since 1997 and we have had the most snow since 1991, in terms of the amount over a wide geographical spread."

Professor James Scource, a marine geologist explained that the weather phenomenon 'La Nina', results in cold areas of the Equatorial Pacific, causing "Arctic break outs" like the current one Wales is experiencing, across the Northern Hemisphere every five to 10 years.

"When we get a cold winter people say 'surely the scientists have got climate change wrong'," he said, "But you have to disentangle climate which has average trends over hundreds of years, with the blip of an Arctic breakout of Russian weather, which is what we've had; it has been the same in North America."

Professor Neil Glasser, of the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University, explained that the current cold snap is also a result of the jet stream moving further south than it usually is.

"The jet stream brings warm, wet and windy weather into Wales from the Atlantic," said Professor Glasser.

"But it has moved further south this year, instead of travelling over us.

"And the Western-influenced weather appears to have switched off as a result of this and given way to the cold dry air from the East, which brings snow from Russia and Siberian winds.

"Nobody really knows exactly what causes the jet stream to change direction; it is not random but it is an unpredictable event."

Weather forecast for the coming week

Today

Maximum temperature: 6degC

Minimum temperature: -2degC

Further snow is expected in many places early today, with falls of 5cm to 10cm generally and 15cm to 20cm over hills. Some drifting is possible. The following areas have a 60% risk of heavy rain, followed by heavy snow and drifting: Bridgend, Cardiff, Newport, Pembrokeshire, Swansea and the Vale of Glamorgan. There is a moderate risk of around 5cm to 10cm and, perhaps, locally 15cm of snow in the following areas: Ceredigion, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd, Anglesey and Wrexham.

Tomorrow, Thursday and Friday

Max: 4degC

Min: -2degC

All three days look set to be dry with sunny spells but it will be rather cold, with frosts on all three nights, and perhaps some fog.

Saturday to Monday

Max: 5degC

Min: -2degC

The outlook for the weekend and start of next week is for the fairly cold weather to continue. There will be more in the way of dry and fine weather around, with some hard nighttime frosts, but also some spells of sunshine. Wintry showers are likely, particularly in northern and eastern areas. This means there is a risk of sleet and snow almost anywhere. By the end of the weekend, there are indications the weather may turn more unsettled, but remain cold. The probability of snowfall will increase.

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LAST ORDERS: Gritting lorries at the depot in Abercynon prepare for yet more snow last night PICTURE: Patrick Olner
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 10, 2009
Words:926
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