Britain is bracing for heavy snow, blizzards and black ice that could pose a danger to life and threaten to disrupt travel or festival plans for millions.
People will need to bundle up over the new dew days as a polar blast sends temperatures plunging to almost -8C in parts of the country and brings a 350-mile ‘curtain of snow’.
The Met Office has issued yellow ‘danger to life’ warnings for snow, freezing rain and ice for a vast swathe of the country, with severe weather lasting almost 24 hours starting on Saturday.
Up to 8ins of snow could fall over higher ground in Scotland and northern England.
Forecasters have warned that visibility in heavy snow and blizzards will be drastically reduced, drivers could become stranded on impassable roads, some rural communities could be cut off, and untreated pavements could be covered in black ice.
The Met Office has warned that delays on the roads, cancellations to rail and air travel, power cuts, and mobile phone outages are also possible.
There is a chance of injury from slips and falls on icy surfaces, it said.
Forecasters are urging Britons to take the warnings seriously and prepare for severe weather before it strikes this weekend.
The conditions could cause chaos for those who are planning to travel, do some Christmas shopping or take in festive or sporting events.
The snow and ice warning area covers almost all of Scotland, and extends through northern England, the East Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber.
It is in place from 12pm on Saturday to 10am on Sunday.
The Met Office warned: "There is a risk of snow developing with strong southeasterly winds affecting northern UK on Saturday afternoon into Sunday morning.
"The snow could be heavy at times, especially over hills where blizzards may develop, and is likely to drift in strong winds.
"Across northern England and southern Scotland, snow may turn to freezing rain above 200-300 metres leading to widespread ice developing on Saturday night."
The Met Office said 2-5cm (up to 2ins) of snow is likely at lower levels, whilst higher ground could see 10-20cm (4-8ins).
Meteorologist Alex Deakin told the Express: “We are particularly concerned about that wintery weather hitting northern Britain on Saturday afternoon.
“If you’re out Christmas shopping, bear this in mind through Saturday night into Sunday morning.
“Not just snow – although anywhere in this yellow zone could see snow – it’s also the risk of ice particularly on higher roads.”
One report dubbed it a 350-mile ‘curtain of snow’, as public health officials urging people to check on vulnerable family members, friends and neighbours, including the elderly, in severe weather.
Local authorities have gritters on standby as they prepare for the worst.
Elsewhere, gales and heavy rain are expected on Saturday as temperatures stay cold.
Until then, Friday will be cold, dry and sunny in many places after a frosty start.
There will be the odd coastal shower, with light rain across Northern Ireland and the Western Isles.
Friday night will bring isolated showers on North Sea coasts as central and eastern areas turn cold and frosty under clear skies.
It will be windy in the west with sporadic outbreaks of rain.
Which areas are included in the snow and ice warning?
Central, Tayside and Fife: Angus, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, Falkirk, Fife, Perth and Kinross, Stirling.
Grampian: Aberdeenshire, Moray.
Highlands and Eilean Siar: Highland
South-west and Lothian Borders: Dumfries and Galloway, East Lothian, Edinburgh, Midlothian Council, Scottish Borders, West Lothian.
Strathclyde: Argyll and Bute, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Glasgow, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire.
North-east: Darlington, Durham, Gateshead, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees, Sunderland.
North-west: Blackburn with Darwen, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire.
East Midlands: Derbyshire.
Yorkshire and Humber: North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire.
The warning is in place from 12pm on Saturday to 10am on Sunday.
What are the biggest threats?
The Met Office said heavy snow and blizzards may develop across Scotland and northern England with a risk of freezing rain in places.
Here’s what to expect:
Possible travel delays on roads, stranding some vehicles and passengers.
Possible delays or cancellations to rail and air travel.
Some rural communities could become cut off.
Power cuts may occur and other services, such as mobile phone coverage, may be affected.
A chance of injuries from slips and falls on icy surfaces.
Bus and train services may be delayed or cancelled, with some road closures and longer journey times possible.
Untreated pavements and cycle paths might be impassable because of black ice.
Met Office five-day forecast
Cold, dry and sunny for many after a frosty start.
Cloud will occasionally drift into eastern areas, with the odd coastal shower.
Western most parts will stay cloudy and windy, with light rain across Northern Ireland and the Western Isles.
Isolated showers on North Sea coasts, otherwise quickly turning cold and frosty under clear spells in central and eastern parts.
Becoming windy in the west with sporadic outbreaks of rain.
Gales and heavy rain will spread to all areas though Saturday.
Snow and freezing rain is likely across northern England and Scotland leading to blizzard conditions and ice in places.
Sunday to Tuesday
Drier and less cold on Sunday with showers in the west.
Risk of ice into Monday, thereafter drier in the east, but wet in the north and west.
What is the Christmas forecast?
Here’s what the Met Office is predicting between Tuesday 18 December and Thursday 27 December.
For those hoping for a white Christmas, it hasn’t been ruled out.
The weather will be unsettled that week, although temperatures are expected to be milder than average.
The Met Office said: "Tuesday will see some unsettled and windy weather with coastal gales, cloud, and outbreaks of rain and drizzle moving eastwards across the UK.
"The rain and drizzle will be followed by sunny spells and scattered, blustery showers.
"Showers will fall as snow over northern higher ground.
"As we head through the remainder of the week and into the Christmas week it will probably stay unsettled, with further spells of wind and rain, these interspersed by some brighter and showery weather.
"Temperatures on the whole look likely to be a little milder than average.
"However, in the period after Christmas Day there is an increased likelihood that milder spells will become short-lived and a colder and more showery northerly or northwesterly regime could become established across the UK."
Surviving the cold weather
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