Official! December coldest for 120 years

The past month was Britain's coldest December for 120 years, meteorologists said today.

It was also the chilliest individual calendar month since February 1986, according to weather historian Philip Eden, with temperatures dropping as low as -21.1C in the Scottish Highlands.

A series of heavy snowfalls across the UK caused massive disruption to road, rail and air travel as the nation shivered in freezing conditions.

The benchmark Central England Temperature plunged to an average of -0.6C over the month, the lowest figure for December since 1890, according to MeteoGroup UK, the weather forecasting division of the Press Association.

There were 10 nights in December 2010 when the temperature fell below -18C somewhere in the UK.

Altnaharra in Sutherland, Scotland, experienced the coldest conditions, with the mercury plummeting to -21.1C early on December 1.

By contrast, St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly basked in the relative warmth of a high of 11.5C on December 28.

Over the month, the lowest average maximum temperature of -0.4C was recorded in Dalwhinnie and Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands, and the highest of 7.6C in St Mary's.

The average minimum temperature ranged from -8.4C in Tyndrum in Stirlingshire, Scotland, to 4.9C in St Mary's.

Much of Britain may have been freezing and snowbound in December, but it was drier and sunnier than usual.

Rainfall averaged 39.5mm over England and Wales (39% of the mean for 1971-2000), the lowest total for December since 1971, 48mm over Scotland (47%) and 59mm over Northern Ireland (60%).

Northern Ireland enjoyed 80 hours of sunshine over the month (227% of the mean for 1971-2000), Scotland 59 hours (178%) and England and Wales averaged 56 hours (117%).