BLIZZARDS and high winds brought traffic chaos to the North-East and North Yorkshire last night as many roads were rendered impassable.

The treacherous conditions were blamed for a 21-vehicle accident on the A69 east of Corbridge, Northumberland, yesterday afternoon, after which a pregnant woman was airlifted to hospital complaining of stomach pains. No one else was badly injured in the pile-up.

Heavy snow also caused a 20-vehicle pile up on the A19 at Crathorne, North Yorkshire, just after 8.30am, in which no one was hurt.

The worst-hit areas were along the coast, where high winds compounded problems and led to several roads being closed.

Police forces across the region reported a spate of crashes and warned drivers to stay at home as snowfall was expected to continue throughout the night.

In County Durham, police responded to more than 36 accidents from midnight until 3.30pm. Several lorries jack-knifed in the icy conditions, including a truck which overturned on the road between Houghton-le-Spring and Seaham, in the morning, and another which overturned between Binchester and Willington, in the afternoon.

The worst-affected roads were the A19 and the A689 Newton Cap viaduct, which was shut to high-sided vehicles and caravans because of strong winds.

"We are urging drivers to take extra care if they have to go out," said a force spokesman.

On Teesside, roads were left gridlocked with commuters facing lengthy journeys home. The A66 eastbound was blocked and the A19 north of Billingham impassable due to sheet ice. Gritters were working throughout the night to clear it.

"Matters are not being helped by the manner of driving of many motorists and we would urge all drivers to take extra care and increase their distance," said a Cleveland Police spokesman.

North Yorkshire Police reported no major accidents but warned of snow storms, ice, and serious winds along the coast and on moorland roads.

The A171 Whitby to Guisborough road saw three lorries and a van overturn in a half-hour period at lunchtime. Several wagons also got stuck on the A171 at Cloughton Bank.

The AA said it had received double the number of breakdown calls in the North-East normally anticipated on a winter's day.

It wasn't just the roads which were affected by the weather.

Hundreds of passengers left Newcastle Airport disappointed when afternoon flights were cancelled.

Staff worked to clear the runways between snow storms, but as the weather worsened, they were forced to start cancelling flights to London, Belfast and Brussels.

At Wolsingham School and Community College, Weardale, 800 pupils were sent home.

There was however some good news last night as weather experts predicted the cold snap would be short-lived.

"It's all going to be over very quickly," said forecaster Philip Eden. "The snow will all be out of the way by Saturday."

Snow showers were expected to continue today but the wind should drop and the temperature climb above freezing.

Amateur North-East forecaster Dave Hardacre said there was a slight chance of the snow returning in a week's time.