Lancashire County Council's highways teams have been battling round the clock to keep Lancashire's roads open after freak end-of-March weather brought heavy snow coupled with high winds, a dangerous combination leading to drifts five metres high in places.
Duncan Reeve, Lancashire County Council's highways manager for the east of the county, said: "Our teams have pulled out all the stops – they absolutely could not have done or given any more. They've worked continuously since Thursday evening and we've brought in sub-contractors to help out as well.
"We're as well prepared as we've ever been thanks to experience gained from recent severe winters.
"Since Thursday evening, we've used between 2,500 and 3,000 tonnes of salt – a significant amount and way above what we'd expect to use at this time of year.
"The worst drifts have been in East Lancashire and in that part of the county alone we've had 23 gritters out fitted with snowploughs, 16 JCBs with snow shovels, and two snow-blowers. Today we're still working at the same level as at the weekend to clear the few remaining secondary roads which are still blocked.
"The worst-hit roads have been the A682 Gisburn to Barrowford road and the A6068 from Laneshaw Bridge to Skipton.
"The high winds mean that snow is blowing off the fields and collecting in roads, often to the height of the walls on either side.
"Conditions are starting to improve today, but it's still extremely cold which means any thaw is going to be very slow.
"On Friday night and into Saturday we were working with police and mountain rescue to reach stranded motorists.
"I've also heard that on Sunday morning, after one of our contractors had been digging through the snow for most of the night to open up a priority road, we came across a motorist who had been stranded in his car for 24 hours – what a relief all round.
"My advice to motorists is to avoid rural roads if at all possible. Urban roads are generally clear which can give a false sense of security – but out in the countryside it's a very different story."
The rest of the county didn't escape unscathed. In the north there was serious drifting in the Quernmore, Abbeystead, Wray, Lowgill, Calder Vale and Oakenclough areas. The county council's highways teams had five JCBs working over the weekend with five agricultural contractors lending a hand. There are still three JCBs working digging out more rural roads today.
The south of the county was also faced with huge drifts up to 5m not only affecting the remote areas but also some A and B roads, such as the A570, a main arterial route to the M58. All 16 gritters were fitted with snow ploughs and were deployed since Friday in an effort to keep the routes clear. Five agricultural contractors were also called in to help remove snow drifts, with loadalls, JCBs and snow blowers. Work is continuing today with efforts concentrated on more remote locations to ensure people are able to keep moving.
Lancashire County Council has a fleet of 49 frontline gritters which can treat the 1,500 miles of the county council's priority road network within around four hours, but may take longer in severe conditions.
The county council has also a number of agricultural contractors who clear more remote rural roads in the event of heavy snow.
When it snows, it can cost up to £100,000 a day to keep the operation going. The county council budgets £4m a year on tackling winter weather but spends whatever is needed to deliver its winter service plan. In east Lancashire 43% of all roads are on the priority network and are treated within four hours whenever a freeze is forecast. A further 28% of roads are also treated in more severe weather, such as snow, which means nearly three-quarters of all roads are part of the gritting network.
People can find information and advice on winter weather, including real-time gritting updates on Lancashire County Council's website which has links to forecasts and the council's Twitter and Facebook feeds which are updated every time the gritters go out.
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