Big chill descends on Britain

Schools close as snow and ice cause travel chaos from Scotland to the south coast
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The Independent Online

As Britain endured some of its coldest weather for years, forecasters warned that the next 12 months could bring blistering heat.

Snow blanketed large parts of the country yesterday, causing travel chaos and giving children in Gloucestershire an extra day's holiday.

While the icy weather is predicted to last until the weekend, scientists at the Met Office in London and the University of East Anglia said this year's average global temperature would be more than 0.4C above the long-term average, which would make 2009 one of the five hottest years on record.

Last night, the Met Office predicted snow in Scotland, sleet in the far north of England and a frosty day for most of the country. Temperatures were set to drop overnight to between -4C and -7C.

"It is a few years since it has been as cold as this," said Dan Adamson, a forecaster at MeteoGroup UK, the Press Association's weather division.

Temperatures have dropped in the past week to -13C in the Scottish Highlands and -9C in Oxfordshire. Heavy snow fell in northern England yesterday with lighter falls across Kent, Sussex, London and East Anglia.

In Dorset, up to 50 people camped out to secure a lease on one of 20 beach huts being made available at Mudeford Sandbank. "It has not been too bad. It got a bit cold about 4am when it started snowing," said one woman.

At Banham Zoo in Norfolk, keepers were trying to encourage a pair of Siberian tiger cubs to leave their covered pen. The animals can survive in temperatures as low as -40C but the 11-week-old cubs have baulked at -4C.

The bookmaker William Hill has cut the odds for a record cold temperature in 2009 from 20/1 to 16/1 and halved the odds of skating taking place on the Serpentine in London to 8/1.