BLACK ice, fog and freezing rain combined to cause treacherous conditions and a spate of accidents amid chaotic scenes in Yorkshire yesterday.
Ambulance chiefs were forced to implement their major incident plan as the service was inundated with hundreds of 999 calls and one A&E unit reported dealing with record numbers of patients.
The A1 at junction 45 near Tadcaster and the M1 at junction 41 at Wakefield were closed following accidents while there were also collisions on the M62 and M606 near Bradford.
The A66 across the Pennines was among a host of roads that shut due to ice. Bus journeys in some parts of the region were severely disrupted and dozens of schools were closed.
The AA said Sheffield and Bradford were worst hit by weather-related breakdowns in the entire country. Incidents were being received yesterday morning at a rate of 1,200 every hour and it expected to attend 14,000 callouts during the day – 50 per cent more than usual.
In one accident, a fire engine called to help at 4am after a car hit a tree on the A6135 Barnsley Road in Sheffield also crashed on the same patch of black ice, crushing the car against the tree.
A response vehicle sent by paramedics crashed into a lamp-post nearby and two other cars also skidded. Four people suffered minor injuries and the road was closed for seven hours.
Yorkshire Ambulance Service chiefs said they received 221 calls for falls between 6 and 9am – nearly nine times as many as expected – with 465 999 calls over the same period, which was 146 per cent more than usual.
Managers said they had activated their major incident plan to cope with the surge in demand including cancelling non-essential transport as crews were diverted to help 999 emergency services.
Medical director Alison Walker said the service had received hundreds of calls for weather-related incidents including traffic accidents, and injuries from slips, trips and falls.
NHS bosses in Sheffield said staff had gone “above and beyond the call of duty” to provide care to hundreds injured in accidents in the city amid predictions a record 500 people would visit A&E at the Northern General Hospital by midnight last night – 50 per cent more than usual. The previous highest number was 398 in last year’s heavy snow.
Sir Andrew Cash, chief executive at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Our hospital and community-based staff have been truly amazing today coping with not just those who people have had an accident due to the ice, but also making sure our normal services kept running with the minimum of disruption.
“Everyone is working tirelessly and it is a fabulous team effort which shows the NHS at its best.”
Managers said orthopaedic surgeons had been drafted into A&E at the Northern General and the minor injuries unit at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital to assess patients as they arrived. Extra radiography and clerical staff also came in to work to ensure X-rays could be carried out more quickly.
Extra fracture clinics have been set up to run over the weekend and Monday to review patients given initial treatment yesterday.
Elsewhere, dozens of schools in Huddersfield, Bradford and parts of South Yorkshire were shut or opened only later in the day as staff and pupils struggled to get to classes.
Wakefield Council’s highways network manager, Graham West, said its team of gritters had been out overnight but could do little in the conditions.
“Black ice forms when supercooled rain falls onto sub-zero temperature roads, washes off the salt and then immediately freezes,” he added. “This is an exceptional weather condition and we can simply do nothing before the event.”