Here is your complete guide to the big freeze, if you catch my drift

120,000 tonnes of salt at the ready as Beast from the East sets in

Social media is awash with videos of people both enjoying and braving the wintry conditions as freezing weather grips Europe. Video: Reuters

 

The Beast from the East, Storm Emma, orange alerts, red alerts, emergency co-ordination groups; there is a blizzard of news and information about the weather this week. Here’s everything you need to know (hopefully).

Are we losing the run of ourselves with all the talk of the Beast from the East?

It may be that the media coverage and the Government’ s response – particularly the mobilisation of the National Emergency Co-ordination Group (NECP) – is excessive but, as with Storm Ophelia, it is probably better to be safe than sorry and all the expert advice is that the weather event coming at us from the east is going to be a big deal.

Evelyn Cusack of Met Éireann speaking to media on Wednesday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Evelyn Cusack of Met Éireann speaking to media on Wednesday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Remind me what is happening?

Polar winds from central Europe are going to clash with rain-laden clouds from the Bay of Biscay as the week progresses and that is likely to lead to heavy falls of snow and blizzard conditions. Because we so rarely get serious snow, it is more of an event – and more of a problem here than it might be in, say, St Petersburg or Alaska.

Where is likely to be worst hit?

The east coast is likely to experience the heaviest snowfalls starting on Tuesday evening and continuing, intermittently, for the rest of the week, possibly peaking on Thursday and Friday. Temperatures may fall by 10 degrees below normal, with significant wind chill and severe frosts threatening domestic water supplies. Met Éireann has issued a status orange weather warning for the east of the country from Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday morning, while a nationwide status yellow weather advisory is to remain in effect until at least Saturday.

And who is likely to be worst hit?

People who are sleeping rough are very vulnerable, as are elderly people living alone. People driving in hazardous road conditions and farmers caring for their animals are also in the high risk category.

How bad are the roads likely to get?

Local authorities have been salting “priority routes” since the start of the week and snow ploughs are on standby, as are fire services and the Civil Defence. Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) said it has 120,000 tonnes of salt, about four times the amount used during the winter of 2010. However, Seán O’Neill, director of communications at TII, said “a lot of regional roads might not get salted or ploughed”.

What about airports? Will flights be affected?

Almost certainly. The worsening weather has already led to the cancellation of a number of flights into Dublin on Tuesday and Aer Lingus has been asked by the Heathrow Airport Authority to reduce its schedule due to the severe weather conditions, which are likely to affect a number of other airports.

I have heard stories of food shortages, can that possibly be true?

Weirdly, it is. Almost as soon as the reports of the beast started appearing people started panic-buying as if we were heading into some class of nuclear winter and shoppers across the country started reporting difficulties in buying certain food items due to a massive increase in demand. Supermarket chains have started increasing supplies of bread and other essential foodstuffs amid evidence of widespread panic-buying. Tesco Ireland said it had worked with its suppliers to ensure a 20 per cent increase in availability of fresh bread, while it was also increasing stock levels of other fresh produce, including milk, with extra deliveries today and throughout tomorrow.

Enough about me, what about my dog?

Depending on its size and coat they will be more or less vulnerable to the cold. Dogs with thin coats are more vulnerable to the cold and should not be left out in the cold. And remember that in cold weather dogs take longer to do their business, so you will need to be patient.

A screen shot of the man who slipped on the ice during RTÉ’s report by John Kilraine in 2011.
A screen shot of the man who slipped on the ice during RTÉ’s report by John Kilraine in 2011.

How can I avoid being like that man who slipped on the ice on the RTÉ news that time?

Walk slowly and wear rubber-soled boots with good grips. If you’re stuck for grips you could wear thick socks over the soles of your shoes as that will help improve your gait on the snow and ice. It will make your shoes slippery indoors so make sure to remove them before you go inside. To reduced the likelihood of falls outside the home, you might want to consider gritting danger areas. Dishwasher salt can be a cheap alternative to salty grit to ensure the steps and paths around your home stay ice-free.

How can I protect my home from the big freeze?

Make sure that water pipes and water tanks in the attic are insulated and turn on your taps regularly to make sure there’s a flow of water through them. Keep the heat on for as long as you can and if you are going out for an extended period of time put your heating on a timer so it will turn on for an hour every now and then. Know where the stopcock that turns off the water is located and make sure it works.

Why do I need to know that?

Well if a pipe bursts you will need to turn off the water at the stopcock and you don’t want to be searching for that when water is pouring from your attic.If there is a burst pipe you will also have to switch off the central heating and any other water heating installations and open all taps to drain the system.

Anything else?

If you have time you might want to clean your gutters. Full gutters increase your chance of having ice form on your roof. But, for the love of God, be careful if you’re up a ladder.

The worst has happened and my pipes have burst. What can I do now?

Arrange for emergency repairs to be carried out to stop any damage getting worse. Keep evidence of damaged goods and keep receipts for everything you replace. Film and photograph all damage and make sure to alert your insurance company as soon as possible.

A couple walk their dog on the beach as heavy snow falls in the sea side resort of Scarborough in North Yorkshire on Wednesday. Photograph AFP
A couple walk their dog on the beach as heavy snow falls in the sea side resort of Scarborough in North Yorkshire on Wednesday. Photograph AFP

Should I be driving?

If you must. But with driving and weather conditions likely to worsen, you should slow down, allow extra stopping distance between your car and any car in front of you, and expect poor visibility. Add at least 15 minutes onto your normal commute and use that extra time to get your windows clear, as well as making allowances for the extra traffic.

Will my car start?

If it is new(ish) you should be grand but if you have an older battery the sudden temperature dip may see it struggle to start after being idle overnight. It might be worth taking it for a short drive before the weather worsens.

If there is ice on my car windows, I’ll just pour boiling water on it, right? Please don’t. Warm water will clear the windows, boiling water might crack them.

Got any driving tips?

Irish people are not great when it comes to driving in the snow because we so rarely have to. If you absolutely have to go on a long journey and are concerned you might get stuck, stick a blanket, a pair of boots, and an external phone battery charger in the car as well as a couple of bars of chocolate. Obvious, we know, but worth saying all the same just in case you set out wearing flip-flops and a vest.

Make sure your tyres are properly inflated – if the pressure is low you might get more traction when you pull off, but your braking and steering control will be impaired. Avoid minor roads, mountains, hills and the Sally Gap – and the way it might look at you. Drive slowly, and if you start sliding don’t break too hard. Take it easy with the steering wheel and the pedals.

My car is a bit stuck in the snow, what should I do?

Loads. Don’t forget your shovel if you want to get to work. If you have forgotten your shovel, gently alternate between reverse and first gear to rock the car to try and get it moving. The floormats can be put under the tyres to give you a bit more traction – taxi drivers swear by this method and who are we to argue with them.

I am now stranded in six feet of snow, what should I do?

Stop reading this for a start. You’ll need to preserve your phone battery. Wrap up warm, call for help and wait. Don’t abandon the car and walk to safety – unless safety is spitting distance away.

What is likely to happen to the schools and public transport?

Met Éireann has said there is a risk of a “status red” snow warning being issued for Thursday and Friday as Storm Emma descends. If a status red warning is issued it will lead to “automatic schools closure” and public transport will be suspended.

What happens if I miss work because of Emma?

Who’s Emma? Oh, sorry, we forgot. The Beast from the East also includes a weather front called Emma, which may sweep up from the southeast on Thursday and Friday. There is good and bad news on this front. The bad news is that if you miss work because you can’t make it through the snow – or because the State has warned you against making unnecessary journeys – your employer is not legally obliged to pay you.

However, as we learned from Ophelia, employers are not – typically – stupid, and have little interest in souring the relationship they have with staff (as well as attracting very negative media coverage) by refusing to pay those who can’t make it to work through absolutely no fault of their own.

What if I can’t make it to work because my kid’s school is closed and I have to look after them?

Again, while there is no legal requirement to pay you, employers would be very foolish to try and force people to choose between a day’s pay and abandoning their children in the snow where they might get eaten by wolves. The SME group Isme has said employers should provide for “flexibility” in the days ahead – particularly for people who have to travel long distances to and from work. Employers will also be expected to facilitate staff who need to leave work early to avoid getting stuck in a snow drift.

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