Christmas roads chaos on way as salt stocks dwindle
THE worst of the winter weather is on its way with snow and ice to hit large parts of the country today and over the weekend.
Temperatures will plummet to minus 6C over the coming days, throwing the Christmas travel plans of tens of thousands into chaos.
Thousands of kilometres of heavily trafficked roads will not be gritted because salt is in low supply.
The National Roads Authority (NRA) warned that the coming days would be "difficult", as Donegal County Council last night said it would treat just one third of its priority routes because of severe salt shortages, or 370kms per night.
It had been treating 1,200km a day, but severe rationing of stocks means that only priority routes will be kept open. It will be one of the first counties to be hit by snow and ice.
Just 15,000 tonnes of salt are in stock, and will have to be mixed with grit to keep roads open.
"It's going to create a lot of difficulty for the local and regional roads," spokesman Sean O'Neill said. "We've implemented rationing of supply to strictly go with the national routes only and key local roads. They will be mixing it with grit which will assist us in extending the usage. This is going to be difficult for everyone."
Rush-hour commuters leaving Limerick yesterday encountered the first of the showers of sleet as the cold weather began to take a grip on the Mid-West region.
Met Eireann warned it would get "bitterly cold" over the coming days, with snow forecast in the west and south today which will extend to all parts of the country by Sunday.
"The cold northerly winds will bring snow for the next 24-48 hours, mostly in the west, with significant accumulations of up to 15cm. In the south and east there will be occasional snow showers," forecaster Deirdre Lowe said.
"Low pressure will move down over the country and that brings the risk of further snow showers. There could be snow in the east on Saturday. Temperatures will be freezing, even during the day at close to freezing. Next week looks very cold with the risk of snow. In the days before Christmas, temperatures will rise but not much above freezing. It's going to be worse than what we had, minus 5C or 6C, bitterly cold."
Gardai in Cork said they expect black ice to cause serious problems across the county, with thawed snow likely to freeze.
The AA advised drivers to make journeys during the daylights hours, and to avoid higher ground where possible.
"Plan to make journeys during daylight in the coming days," Nicola Hudson said. "Stick to national primary roads where possible as these will be prioritised for gritting". Although there has been a good thaw in the past few days, compacted snow and ice failed to clear in some areas, mainly on higher ground."
Some 75,000 tonnes of salt have already been used this winter, compared to an average of 60,000 tonnes. Another 26,000 tonnes will land by the end of next week.
Dublin City Council said night-time water restrictions will continue, but will start at the later time of 10pm to help restaurants and bars which are at their busiest period of the year.