Severe snowstorms and high winds are expected to bring serious travel disruption across a large area of Britain.
An amber warning for strong winds and blizzard conditions with up to 40cm (15.7in) of snow has been issued by the Met Office covering an area from Stoke-on-Trent to Durham on Thursday. The forecaster said significant disruption to transport, power lines and phone network coverage was likely.
Wednesday night was the coldest of the year so far, with temperatures plummeting to -16C in Altnaharra, Scotland.
The Peak District and Pennines have the potential for as much as 40cm of snow into Friday morning, with remote communities at risk of being cut off.
The amber warning for parts of central and northern England lasts for 21 hours from 3pm on Thursday. An amber warning means there is a likelihood that severe weather will disrupt people’s plans, with a possibility of travel delays, road and rail closures, and power cuts. It also brings a potential risk to life and property.
Yellow warnings for snow are in place for all of England north of the West Midlands from Thursday morning, for much of Wales and all of Northern Ireland. While southern England is likely to receive rain, it will turn to snow once it reaches central regions.
Yellow weather warnings for snow and ice are also in place across much of Scotland.
A yellow warning for snow and ice is in place in northern Scotland, where temperatures were as low as -4C in the early hours of Thursday. A further yellow warning is in place for snow across the central belt, Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders – with an additional warning for snow and ice in place for south-east Scotland.
The Met Office warns that some roads and railways are likely to be affected with longer journey times by road, bus and train services.
There will also be some icy patches on untreated roads, pavements and cycle paths and possible injuries from slips and falls on icy surfaces.
Significant disruption to rail and roads is expected across Britain. The RAC reported an increase in breakdowns along the M4 west from London into Wales. National Highways warned drivers in the West Midlands and the east of England not to travel unless their journey is essential.
Rod Dennis from the RAC said: “We’re continuing to monitor the weather situation closely, but with further snow expected over the next few days there is still the potential for some significant disruption to journeys.
“Even a little snow and ice can make roads treacherous, so we’re advising everyone who does set out to proceed extremely cautiously. We’re also conscious that there will be a large number of new drivers who may never have experienced snow on the roads before, so we urge them to take particular care and drive well within the speed limit to give themselves plenty of time to react should the vehicle in front run into difficulty.”
The UK Health Security Agency has placed all regions of England under a level 3 cold weather alert lasting until midnight on Thursday. Dr Agostinho Sousa, a consultant at UKHSA, said the cold weather could have a serious impact on health, particularly for elderly people. Age UK has urged people to check on older neighbours and relatives.