Snow and ice to hit the whole country

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Icy weather and snow is expected to sweep down from Scotland tonight, bringing with it the coldest snap this winter. Temperatures are unlikely to rise above freezing point this week, with nights in some parts of the north dipping as low as minus 5C or minus 10C.

Andy Bodenham, a Met Office forecaster, said: "We can expect areas in the north and east of Scotland and England to get the brunt of the snow, with as much as 10cm falling in the worst affected areas."

Most of the country will see either snow or bitterly cold weather and there is unlikely to be much respite until next weekend. The threat of snow will continue through until Thursday or Friday. "Temperatures will struggle to rise above 0C from Tuesday onwards, but we can expect a milder start to the following week," Mr Bodenham added.

Cold air from the Atlantic has already affected some areas. In Glasgow the temperature was 5C at midday on Saturday, compared with 10C 24 hours earlier.

Malcolm Wicks, Minister for Pensions and Older People, encouraged pensioners to take advantage of Winter Fuel and Cold Weather payments so as not to put themselves at risk during the cold weather. "No older person should have to worry about turning up the heating during this cold snap," he said.

British Gas predicted that the cold snap could trigger more than 20,000 emergency calls a day and warned householders to be wary of frozen or burst pipes

Meanwhile, the Highways Agency assured the public it would do its best to ensure that all motorways and roads would remain open during the bad conditions. It has placed 700 gritters and snow ploughs on "full alert".

At least temperatures are unlikely to reach the lowest ever recorded in the UK, minus 27.2C at Braemar, Scotland on 10 January, 1982, and at Altnaharra, Scotland on 30 December, 1995.