Sunny weekend expected as snow dissipates

Irish Air Corps helicopters join North relief mission to help farmers cut off by snow

The weather is causing difficult driving conditions and poor visibility for motorists in many parts of the East. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA Wire

The weather is causing difficult driving conditions and poor visibility for motorists in many parts of the East. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA Wire

Thu, Mar 28, 2013, 14:58

Met Éireann has said today should mark the end of the current spell of snow showers in the east with a sunny weekend forecast.

A change in wind direction has finally banished snowshowers as the month shapes up as the coldest March in 50 years.

The forecaster expects dry spells and sunshine for the rest of the day with temperatures of three to six degrees .

Conditions are improving in the east and midlands with snow having melted in most areas following heavy overnight snowfall.

Some icy patches may also linger on secondary routes and in sheltered areas. The Sally Gap in Co Wicklow remains impassable. Dublin Bus 44b service is not serving Glencullen and the 65 is unable to serve Blessington . The west appears to be less affected by the severe weather conditions.

There will be widespread frost tonight with lowest temperatures of +1 to -2 degrees. However it will be mostly dry tonight. Tomorrow will be cold and dry but with good sunny spells all day.

There will be sunny spells and it will be mostly dry over the Easter weekend, especially in the West, Met Eireann said. However it will remain very cold with daytime temperatures between 5 ot 7 degrees, falling to freezing or below at night with widespread frost and the risk of icy roads.

Problems caused by snowfall persist in the North. Two Irish military helicopters have joined the relief mission to help Northern Ireland farmers whose herds have been cut off by the snow.

The Augusta Westland helicopters, each carrying up to 14 personnel, took off from Casement Aerodrome at Baldonnel, Co Dublin, this morning, the Irish Defence Forces confirmed.

They will team up with two Royal Air Force Chinook crews to drop bales of essential food and supplies to stranded animals in the worst affected areas such as the Mourne Mountains and Glens of Antrim.

“Two helicopters took off from Baldonnel and will land at Aldergrove for a briefing. They will work out of Ballykinler and from there they will be tasked by Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and the RAF to do what they need to, and that is to deliver animal feed to the animals affected by the weather crisis,” said a spokeswoman for the Irish Defence Forces.

Thousands of animals are feared dead, but the extent of the losses is still unclear as most of the missing livestock are buried below the thick blankets of snow and drifts of up to 20 feet high.

It is understood the Irish Air Corps will concentrate their efforts in the higher ground of South Down. They are able to carry at least two bales from a huge sling under the aircraft.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said: “We are working closely with the Irish resources under the direction of DARD to provide relief to the most affected areas.” The RAF was called in after a request from Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill following urgent appeals from stricken farmers who claim the conditions are the worst they have seen in decades.

Noel Lavery, a senior official with Stormont’s Department of Agriculture, said he understood there would be no charge from the Irish Government for the use of the Air Corps helicopters.

But he told an emergency meeting of the agriculture committee he believed the department would face a charge for the use of the RAF. The Stormont Executive will meet later today to discuss potential hardship payments for those worst affected by the snow.

The Northern Executive will today consider how it can assist farmers who have been badly hit by heavy snowfall in Northern Ireland while the assembly’s agriculture committee will be briefed by senior officials in an effort to provide relief.

Additional reporting PA