Britons have been braced for the earliest widespread snowfall for 17 years as blizzards threatened to cloak parts of the country in white.
Biting Arctic winds and freezing temperatures were set to take hold amid forecasts of hail and snow storms. The heaviest fall was expected in the Scottish Highlands – with up to 8ins (20cm) in Grampian and in Yorkshire, north-east England and East Anglia.
The Met Office issued severe weather warnings, flagging up icy roads and drifting snow for much of Scotland and north-east England. Forecasters warned the cold snap was expected to take hold as the week continued, with temperatures dropping to minus 5C in some regions over the next few days.
It is expected to be the earliest major snowfall since 1993. By the end of the week, a moderate dusting of snow is expected across the rest of the country, though it will remain heaviest in Scotland, Orkney and the Shetland Isles.
Temperatures were not expected to rise much above 2-5C by day, remaining lower in the more exposed, rural areas. Overnight they are likely to plummet to below freezing, reaching minus 10C on Monday in the Highlands.
Billy Payne, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: “There will be sleet and snow showers around, with the worst affected areas in northern and eastern Scotland and north east England. There will be a covering of snow, especially over the higher ground, with wintry showers across London. Wales and south west England will see hail and sleet with snow over the Welsh mountains.”
He added: “The cold spell looks set to stay at least into the beginning of December. There will be low temperatures into next week, with the risk of sleet and snow showers. Eastern areas will bear the brunt of the snow showers into the weekend and penetrate quite far in-land.”
The freezing conditions mean the snow is likely to settle on the ground, leading to a risk of ice. Motorists were urged to exercise caution on the roads as temperatures plunged and to check weather conditions before setting off.
The AA earlier said it rescued a “handful” of cars stuck in snow in the Aberdeenshire and Moray areas, while call outs were up significantly in North Yorkshire and Newcastle.
Parts of Scotland were badly affected by snowfall on Wednesday, with Grampian Police confirming five roads in their area were closed because of snow, one of which was later reopened. Parts of the A92, A93, A939, B976 and A920 roads were shut and several road accidents were reported, including a jackknifed lorry between Huntly and Dufftown.