EVEN given the British unnatural obsession with all aspects of the weather, the late cold snap which gripped East Lancashire earlier this year took on almost apocalyptic dimensions.

And while the winter of 2012-13 could not hold a candle to the sub-zero devastation wreaked two years previously, the exploits of the county’s winter service team will once again come under the microscope when this winter’s ice and snow arrives. Peter Magill reports.

EIGHT ‘front-line’ gritters and more than 11,000 tonnes of rock salt will form East Lancashire’s first line defence against the vagaries of this winter.

Motorists will already have noticed the first substantial frosts this week andare being encouraged to assemble their own cold weather kits.

But imagine having to do the same when you are responsible for more than 1,550 miles of roads - including most people’s main routes to work or school.

County councillor John Fillis, the politician who heads up the highways section at County Hall, is confident his winter specialists are prepared for whatever the weather throws at them in East Lancashire.

And likewise Blackburn with Darwen’s executive member for regeneration, Coun Maureen Bateson said: “After the last few years we have made sure that we are prepared in good time in case the weather takes a turn for the worst.”

Like every year, Coun Fillis is warning that the main thoroughfares must take priority as roadside squads aim to keep Lancashire trucking from now until spring finally breaks.

He said: "We're well prepared for the coming winter but are asking everyone to do their bit to help.

“We always have to focus our gritting resources on treating the main routes, and we’re as ready as we can be for any prolonged severe weather.

“But as the first frosts begin we can all take steps to make sure that when severe weather strikes we are able to manage.

“Whether it’s checking on elderly and vulnerable neighbours, helping to clear snow from pathways or planning ahead for your journey, together we can keep our county safe and on the move.”

Four gritters each are located at two of the authority’s depots in Widow Hill Road, Burnley, and Bacup’s Henrietta Street, amid pledges that all vehicles between 10 and 12-years-old have been replaced.

For the first time each of the gritters will be fitted with sat-navs, enabling any driver to tackle any particular route, regardless of where they are in the county.

Meanwhile route-based forecasting is set to be deployed, giving bosses the opportunity to make up-to-the-minute decisions on particular roads, rather than just general areas.

And as well as major mounds of rock salt at Burnley and Bacup, similar heaps can be found at depots in Accrington, Whalley and Samlesbury, the latter of which holds stock for all of Lancashire’s grit bins.

In Colne, often a victim of some of the harshest winter conditions locally, a team of ‘snow angels’ is currently being recruited by the borough council, as part of a trial scheme designed to help those most in need.

Weather experts have said the winter of 2010-11 was the worst for 100 years and during that time county engineers spread 21,000 tonnes of salt - stocks across Lancashire will top 35,000 tonnes this time around.

Meanwhile Blackburn with Darwen Council said its three thousand tonne salt bins were at ‘full capacity’ and had enough reserves to cover major and secondary roads such as Bolton Road, Buncer Lane and Roman Road when required.

Eight staff and another 16 standby drivers have been employed to drive eight gritters whilst another 14 trained volunteers will be on hand for emergency situations.

And this year councillors have called for more volunteers to provide community support through one of its 50 around the clock Winter squads.

150 neighbourhood teams have each been provided with six tonnes of grit and tools to help clear snow and warm clothing to help elderly neighbours stay warm.