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Coldest winter in 31 years takes its toll

Warwickshire’s residents may take some grim satisfaction in news from the Met Office that the winter of 2009/2010 has been officially recognised as the coldest in 31 years.

After three months of snow, sleet, rain and consistently freezing temperatures figures from the forecaster show the UK winter - which in forecasting terms lasts from the start of December until the end of February - has been the harshest, in temperature terms, since 1978-79.

And Warwickshire County Council is just now counting the cost of the big freeze with a bill expected to run into millions.

Throughout the winter the county council has tried to keep people informed, and the web proved to be an extremely popular channel. During the two weeks of snow in January, the main site received 485,385 visits (Source: Google Analytics). However, this doesn’t include school closures.

Demand for school closure information was huge during the adverse weather with the school closures site received 333,000 visits (Source: WebTrends) during January fortnight of snow, with the peak being 77,000 during Wednesday, 6th January (12,000 between 7am and 8am alone).

And while the temperatures were freezing the phone lines have been hot into the county council with the Customer Service Centre staff taking 3,524 phone calls in January - 67 per cent of these calls were about gritting. People also contacted the Customer Service Centre via the web, which increased by 119.30% from 552 in 2009 to 1,125 in 2010 (631 emails 494 online fault reports).

Everyone from children to older people have been hit, and motorists will be all too aware of the state the roads have been left in by the constant freezing temperatures.

So far the county council’s highways teams have filled almost 8,000 potholes in temporary repairs. These temporary repairs have cost about £100,000, but the bill to carry out permanent repairs to the potholes is expected to be in the region of £500,000.

However, thanks to the pothole reporting system, whether face to face, by phone, or on the internet, the teams have managed to get out and fill all potholes reported in an average of two to three days.

The pressure on the gritting team has been well publicised and in the winter period there were 74 grits, using 14,500 tonnes and gritted a total of 130,000 kms of county roads. The county council gritters used 20,000 gallons of diesel during this period and 1,000 grit bins were refilled.

Fire and Rescue were faced with their own pressures as many people stayed at home, and in some cases tried to keep warm with old paraffin and gas heaters causing house fires. Plus on a number of occasions the service had to request that highways staff grit incident grounds to control the risks from freezing fire water run-off.

Getting support to vulnerable and elderly people in Warwickshire’s communities was a key priority for the county council during the cold weather. Staff walked to clients’ homes, used 4x4 vehicles to reach the more inaccessible locations and all clients who usually received a service received either a personal visit or a telephone call to check on their wellbeing.

Specialist drivers from Adult, Health and Community Services were out from 6.30am to midnight in areas where snow was up to 3 feet deep and temperatures down to -15 degrees celcius. They assisted home care staff to get to vulnerable customers at all hours especially early mornings and late evenings and to assist residential homes to do staff change overs. The vehicles also helped the voluntary and private sector, whether it was been getting meals on wheels to customers in Stratford or transporting staff to Mencap in Southam.

Cllr Alan Farnell, Leader of Warwickshire County Council, said: “This winter has been a real test, but whether it’s been technological achievements, human endeavour, or simply good planning, we have come through the coldest winter in more than three decades extremely well.

“Clearly there are ongoing issues, including the huge bill we face to repair our roads, and this will have to be addressed - right now though I would like to thank Warwickshire’s residents for their support this winter, and to commend staff for their efforts to keep services running wherever possible.”