Life in the Freezer; Warnings of Power Cuts and Travel Chaos as the Met Office Forecasts Coldest Winter for a Decade

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Byline: SEAN POULTER;TAHIRA YAQOOB

BRITAIN can expect its coldest winter for at least a decade, the Met Office warned yesterday.

Sustained icy weather threatens to kill thousands and cause travel chaos.

Coupled with a shortage of gas, it could lead to power cuts for industry.

Gas supplies to factories and power stations would be cut to ensure there is enough to run the nation's central heating systems.

But even though households would be guaranteed supplies, the soaring cost of fuel means that many might still decide they cannot afford it.

It is claimed that three million pensioners and poorer families already face a difficult choice between heating their homes and putting food on the table.

Charities fear a sharp rise in the number of older people dying from the cold. An estimated 32,000 die every winter through lack of adequate heating - a figure which rises by 8,000 for every degree the temperature falls below the average.

Chief meteorologist Ewen McCallum said: 'There is the potential for long periods of up to two weeks where the temperature may not rise much above freezing.' London Mayor Ken Livingstone went further by warning that London and the South East could face the worst winter since 1962-1963, when Britain was frozen from Boxing Day until April with an average temperature of 0.2C (32.3F).

He told the London Assembly: 'We could see quite severe loss of life.' The Met Office has told the London Resilience Forum, which lays plans for major disasters, that there is a high chance of extreme weather.

Its warning is based on the likelihood of winds gusting in from Russia instead of the warmer Atlantic Ocean. It has issued an amber alert urging emergency services to brace themselves for the worst. …