Uncharacteristic Snowfall Slows UK

An estimated 20% of the UK's workforce stayed off work on Monday February 2nd as a result of heavy snow. Roadways, rail and air transport were all affected in parts of the UK.

Described as the heaviest snow in 18 years, the severe weather struck London and parts of England and Wales, limiting Heathrow airport to the use of one runway. Other London-area airports were either closed or experiencing severe delays.

Business groups estimated the productivity loss had cost the UK economy £1 billion ($1.4 billion). By Tuesday, that estimate was rising, with some saying it could be £1.8 billion ($2.5 billion).
The UK Freight Transport Association was reporting many major roads were either closed or partially blocked on Monday. A further accumulation was expected and in some areas snow was expected to mix with rain, leading to icy conditions.

How did things look from a ground-eye view?

TNT, which claims to have Europe's most extensive road network, reported, “The unprecedented weather conditions inevitably impacted on our business in the UK. As a result, we saw a reduction in volumes of the consignments we handled due to the road conditions particularly in our London and South East locations.”

A TNT spokesman noted all 50 TNT locations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were operational and ran a normal sorting operation Monday night (February 2).
“Driver and road safety is clearly of paramount importance to our business,” said the spokesman, “so some routes were temporarily suspended due to dangerous road conditions.”

On the air side, “Operations performed very well with no cancellations or diversions,” said TNT. Six inbound and six outbound flights experienced slight delays-which were not due to the weather-but 98.8% of all consignments made it to our European sorting hub in Liege, Belgium. There were no delays, cancellations or diversions on inbound flights to the UK [as of Tuesday morning].”

Because of the pressures on the road network, TNT said its air operations also experienced reduced volumes on the outbound side.

“TNT takes a very pragmatic approach to adverse weather conditions, doing its utmost to provide as full a service as possible in the face of tough conditions. We have experienced very poor weather conditions in the past, and will no doubt do so in the future,” continued the TNT spokesman, commenting 24 hours into the severe weather conditions. “We will always endeavor to operate as best we can given the conditions, and the weather in the past 24 hours and our response to it was no exception.”

The UK logistics community has had a number of opportunities to practice its response to disruptions. During a strike targeting British Airways' Heathrow operations in London in 2005, forwarders quickly identified affected shipments and rerouted them on other carriers. That disruption only affected one carrier and one airport. Also, logistics services were still fully staffed and operating. At the time, Mick Baker of AMI pointed out, “We’re well versed in being able to accommodate short-term problems as part of our business.”

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