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Heavy snow snarls travel in northern Europe

By Laura Smith-Spark, Stephanie Halasz and Alexander Felton, CNN
updated 5:02 PM EDT, Tue March 12, 2013
A rainbow appears in the skies above a Hong Kong office building on Wednesday, August 7. Click through to see other images of weather around the world. A rainbow appears in the skies above a Hong Kong office building on Wednesday, August 7. Click through to see other images of weather around the world.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Germany's Frankfurt airport, a major European hub, cancels 700 flights
  • Eurostar suspends its high-speed train services Tuesday because of bad weather
  • Bus and train services to airports in Paris start to recover after snow disruption
  • Motorists are stranded in southeast England as snow and ice paralyze roads

London (CNN) -- Swaths of northern Europe were in the grip of snow, ice and high winds Tuesday, causing serious disruption to road, rail and air travelers.

High-speed train operator Eurostar, which runs services linking Paris, Brussels and London, among other destinations, has canceled the rest of its services Tuesday and told passengers to stay at home.

"Severe weather conditions overnight in Northern France and Belgium have led to the closure of the high speed line," a notice on the company's website said.

"Passengers will not be able to travel on Eurostar services today and should not come to our stations."

Snow in Germany snarls air, ground travel

About 10,000 passengers are likely to be affected as a result of the cancellation of around 24 out of 27 scheduled trains Tuesday, Eurostar spokeswoman Lucy Drake said.

The bad weather may also affect services Wednesday, she said, with further cancellations or extended journey times possible

Passengers affected by the disruption will be offered exchanges or refunds, Drake said, and are urged to consider traveling next week if possible.

Air travel has also been hit, with Germany's Frankfurt airport -- a major European hub -- canceling all flights for several hours as it worked to clear its runways.

Some 700 out of a total 1,238 flights have been canceled so far, affecting roughly 7,000 passengers, airport spokesman Christopher Holschier told CNN.

Two of Frankfurt's four runways reopened for takeoff and landing as of 5 p.m. local time, Holschier said, but snow continues to fall.

Holschier said passengers were resigned to the situation as they were well aware of the adverse conditions. "Already, getting to the airport has been an ordeal," he said.

Meanwhile, the official Twitter feed for the two main airports in Paris warned that travel disruptions in the French capital were making access to the airports difficult. However, train and bus services were starting to get back to normal in the afternoon, it said.

A quarter of flights from Paris Charles de Gaulle and one in five flights from Paris-Orly were canceled Tuesday in anticipation of the heavy snowfall, the two airports said Monday. Travelers were advised to check on their flight's status before heading to the airport.

London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol airports have also reported snow in the past 24 hours.

Whiteout conditions

Late-winter blasts like these are nothing new for central Europe, according to CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller.

In fact, in Germany they have something known as Märzwinter, or "March winter," said Miller. The phenomenon occurs in mid-March when, after a period of spring-like warmth early in the month that often sees trees and flowers begin to bloom, cold northerly winds bring mid-winter type weather back to the country.

True to form, last week there were seven consecutive days of above-average temperatures in Frankfurt.

The mercury peaked Saturday with a high of 17 degrees Celsius (about 62 degrees Fahrenheit), the kind of temperature usually expected in mid-May. On Tuesday, however, winter returned with a vengeance, dropping 12 centimeters (4.7 inches) of snow by noon.

In addition to the snow, winds have gusted to 50 and 60 kilometers per hour (31 to 37 mph), creating whiteout conditions and making travel even more difficult.

Northern France has taken the brunt of the storm, with some locations seeing up to 40 centimeters (about 16 inches) of snow. Gusty winds have created snow drifts a meter deep or more.

Meteo-France has issued a Red Warning -- its highest level -- for snow and ice through Wednesday morning.

The wintry blast also caused problems for motorists in southeast England, with some trapped in their vehicles overnight by accidents and road closures on icy highways in Kent and Sussex.

Conditions should improve by Wednesday, as the frontal system pushes south and loses some of its intensity, but the cold temperatures will remain through the end of the week.

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