Severe Weather Warnings - Action Following - Advice to Drivers Not to Travel

Yvonne Cameron made this Freedom of Information request to Bromley Borough Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was refused by Bromley Borough Council.

Dear Bromley Borough Council,

On Tuesday 30-11-10, Bromley suffered severe disruption due to snow fall, along with other parts of south and south east London and Surrey, Sussex and Kent.

Steady rather than heavy snow fell all day from the early hours, and continued until mid afternoon on Thursday, with only a break of a few hours on Wednesday afternoon.
Accumulations were around 1" at 0700 on Tuesday, and had built up to around 6" by late on Tuesday evening, and 12" by Thursday afternoon.

On Tuesday, severe congestion occurred across Bromley 's road network from mid-day, with gridlock from early afternoon, which continued late into the night.

Drivers were taking typically 4 to 5 hours to make journeys normally taking 15-30 minutes.
Many drivers became stranded on impassable roads and had to leave their cars and struggle home on foot.
Other drivers were unable to get home, and had to make emergency overnight stays.
Bus services ceased to operate on many routes, and others were curtailed or diverted.
Rail, services were also badly disrupted, with some trains stranded over night.

The news report below describes the snow warnings given by the Met Office to Scottish ministers this week, after central Scotland suffered severe disruption, with hundreds of drivers stranded and trapped overnight in snow.

Please describe the system of snow warnings applying in London, and for Bromley in particular.

It is clear that most workers should have stayed at home, rather than driving or using buses or trains to go to work on Tuesday.

Who takes a decision to advise, warn or instruct the public not to travel to work and to stay at home?
What system is used to communicate such announcements to the public?
Why were such warnings not given on Monday evening and Tuesday morning?

Quoting from the news report below:

"The spokesman said the Met Office's weather alert status for Scotland remained at "orange" throughout Sunday night and early Monday morning and had not moved to red – the level at which motorists are instructed to leave their cars in the garage. "The alert status was not changing and the snow level forecast had not changed," he said."

Is there a similar green - orange - red warning system in use here?

Please provide an XLS spreadsheet list of every weather warning provided by the Met Office, the government or other official body to the council during the 30 days starting with 24-11-10.

This list to include:
the date and time
the status of the warning
the headline text
the full text

In each case, describe the action taken by the council in response.


Thursday, 9th December 2010
By Tom Peterkin

TRANSPORT minister Stewart Stevenson is facing calls to quit after it emerged he failed to react to the Met Office escalating its severe weather warning ahead of the winter storms that brought gridlock to Scotland's road network.

The revelation came after the minister gave a statement to Holyrood in which he insisted the weather had been more severe than forecast.

After apologising for the Scottish Government's handling of the chaos, Mr Stevenson failed to mention he had received a severe "flash" heavy snow warning at 20:41 on Sunday night, nine hours before blizzards engulfed Scotland bringing gridlock to major roads and stranding hundreds of motorists in their cars.

Instead he cited a less severe weather forecast received hours earlier at 16:01, before telling MSPs: "Some areas clearly received more snow than forecast."

The Scottish Government later admitted Mr Stevenson had been aware of the flash weather warning but judged it to be no more serious than earlier forecasts.

But the Met Office last night insisted the 20:41 warning was issued after they detected an escalation in the severity of the looming snowstorms.

A Scottish Government spokesman claimed that Sunday night's 20:41 warning was predicting similar amounts of snow to the forecasts that were mentioned by Mr Stevenson.

In fact it increased the predicted snowfall from 1-3cm in areas including Glasgow and Edinburgh, to 2-5cm, as well as issuing "severe" warnings across central Scotland. It also warned of "widespread icy roads and heavy snow" around rush hour on Monday morning.

The spokesman said the Met Office's weather alert status for Scotland remained at "orange" throughout Sunday night and early Monday morning and had not moved to red – the level at which motorists are instructed to leave their cars in the garage. "The alert status was not changing and the snow level forecast had not changed," he said.

"Arrangements had been made to try and get people back to work and school that day by getting our gritting and salting operations going.
"That forecast was also for two to five centimetres of snow and 10cm on the higher ground and clearly that is not what occurred. The forecast at eight o'clock the following morning was saying the same thing."

Asked why Mr Stevenson had not mentioned the flash forecast during his statement in Holyrood the spokesman said: "In parliament, Stewart Stevenson was not exhaustively going through all the forecasts that we received."

He added: "The level of snow forecast would have been treatable, but the amount of snow that did fall up to 20cm was not treatable."

The new information was put on to the Traffic Scotland website, but Mr Stevenson chose not to take more drastic action such as instructing motorists not to take to the roads.

According to the Met Office, a flash warning is issued when forecasters are confident that the weather is going to get much worse.

A Met Office spokesman said: "Flash warnings for heavy snow are driven by our confidence that there is going to be widespread disruption from an escalation in the weather and that is what happened on Sunday night."

Less than two hours after warning was issued, the Met weatherman Phil Avery told BBC television viewers: "It is all too easy to become complacent, but I should stress that these are fresh warnings from the Met Office about ice and snow . . . as a new weather feature brings fresh snowfall into the Central Belt just in time for the rush hour."

The heavy snowfall saw travel ground to a halt as motorways were brought to a standstill on Monday, with an 11-mile tailback on the M8, while the M80, the A80 and the M9 were also blocked.

Motorists were forced to abandon their cars on the M8 to try to walk to the nearest town after two jack-knifed lorries blocked the motorway at Harthill and Hermiston Gait, near Edinburgh.

Some motorists were forced to eat snow for hydration, while members of the public living next to the M8 rushed to their aid, providing drinks and food.

The police came under fire for failing to come to the aid of the stricken drivers, as motorists faced the prospect of spending the whole night stuck in their cars. Police estimated there were 500 stranded motorists on the M8 and a similar number on the M90.

Last night Labour's Holyrood transport spokesman, Charlie Gordon, called on Mr Stevenson to resign.

"He wriggles and squirms and pushes the blame on to others," he said. "He blames the weatherman – the problem wasn't the weather forecast or the Met Office, the problem was his totally inadequate response. Sorry is not good enough. Will the minister take responsibility, admit his incompetence and go?"

The Conservatives accused the minister of "selectively" quoting from weather forecasts in an attempt to shift the blame for the winter roads chaos onto the Met Office. In his parliamentary statement yesterday Mr Stevenson apologised again for "failing to communicate the position better and earlier" to travellers on Monday.

"I am the transport minister and I am responsible," he told MSPs. "What happened on Monday has been extremely difficult and challenging – it should not have happened, and I have apologised for the failure to communicate the position better and earlier."

He said the action needed to deal with the situation was "hugely complex" and that the amount of snow which fell on Scotland on Monday was "greater than estimated" by the Met Office in its advice to ministers.

The Lib Dems suggested the transport minister should personally start clearing the snow to "make amends" to all those affected.

But it was his failure to act on a crucial Met bulletin that was given to the government the night before the storm which led to opposition claims that the government was indulging in "subterfuge and spin" at a time when the nation was suffering.

Annabel Goldie MSP, Scottish Conservative leader, said: "This is not a time for subterfuge and spin – it beggars belief for the SNP to selectively quote from Met Office reports to back up the pretence that Monday's snow was 'unforecasted'."

Yours faithfully,

Yvonne Cameron

Freedom of Information (Group), Bromley Borough Council

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Freedom of Information (Group), Bromley Borough Council

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Dear Ms Cameron

I am writing further to your request for information dated 26 December which I received on 29 December.

I can confirm that the Council holds information falling within the description specified in your request. However, we estimate that the cost of complying with your request would exceed the appropriate limit of £450. The appropriate limit has been specified in regulations and for local government it is set at £450. This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 2½ working days in determining whether the Council holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting the information. Under section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act the Council is not obliged to comply with your request and we will not be processing your request further.

However, if you were to make a new request for a more narrow category of information, it may be that we could comply with that request within the appropriate limit, although I cannot guarantee that this will be the case. If you would like to discuss this option with a Council officer please let me know and I will put you in contact with the appropriate person. Any reformulated request will be treated as a new request.

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Yours sincerely

Information Co-ordinator
Legal, Democratic and Customer Services
Tel: 020 8313 4316

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