Cold weather records tumbled like snowflakes at the weekend as Arctic conditions gripped Britain – and it is only going to get worse. Forecasters warned that the icy conditions would continue through the week and perhaps into next weekend, with few areas escaping at least a sprinkling of snow.
Police and motoring organisations urged drivers to avoid unnecessary journeys, but were expecting reports of stolen cars this morning from owners who may have popped indoors to keep warm while leaving their car unattended – with its engine running – to warm it up and defrost the windows.
Snow and ice combined to make the roads treacherous across swathes of the country and several airports, including Glasgow and Aberdeen, had to be closed yesterday. More than 40cm (16in) of snow fell in some parts of Scotland and up to 40cm blanketed parts of North-east England, but the coldest of the weather so far was felt in Wales. In Llysdinam, Powys, the temperature sank to -18C, the coldest on record for Wales in November and far below the previous low of -11.2 recorded in 1921. Northern Ireland also suffered its coldest November night ever, with -9.5 at Lough Fea. The previous record was -9C in 1978, the Met Office in London said.
In England, temperatures fell as low as -13.5C – at Topcliffe in North Yorkshire, while in the Scottish Highlands -15.3C was recorded, extremely cold but far short of the -23.3C reported at in Braemar in November 1919. The English record of -15.5C was set at Wycliffe in 1993.
Sarah Holland, of the Met Office, warned that "more of the same" could be expected through the week. However, because winds will be picking up, it will feel even colder. Gusts of 35mph blowing in from the Arctic Circle are expected from tomorrow and will have the effect of making it seem "three or four degrees lower" than it is.
Ms Holland added: "We have just had a bitterly cold night and, as we move through the week, there isn't much of a let-up. There's more snow to come – even London and the South-east may see snow showers, and they could get anything up to 5cm. Daytime temperatures in many places will struggle to move above freezing."
Michael Dukes, of the Press Association's forecasting service MeteoGroup, feared readings could fall below -20C in Scotland later this week and said: "You are seeing some ridiculously low temperatures – it has been a bit like it is in the middle of Scandinavia. This is certainly an extraordinary cold snap."
Andrew Howard, at the AA, said the motoring organisation was taking calls at a rate of 2,000 an hour at its peak yesterday and by mid-afternoon had received 12,000. Most calls were either for help after coming off the road in snow and ice, or for help in starting. With commuters heading back to work today it is expected that call-out rates will rise even further.
Mr Howard warned that an increase in thefts was also expected. "The trouble is there are idiots leaving their engines running to defrost the windows and warm up the car," he said. "They go back indoors to carry on getting ready while leaving the car running. The thieves know this and will walk around looking."
Vicki Burn, of the RAC, said: "If they turn their engines on and go indoors and the car is stolen, the insurer won't pay out. It is not really a very clever thing to do."Reuse content