Britain is lying in wait for widespread snow this weekend after another bitterly cold day in which temperatures in some places struggled to get above freezing.
North Dartmoor recorded a temperature of minus 2.6C at midday, while High Wycombe recorded a temperature of minus 0.7C at 3pm this afternoon.
Temperatures in the South West, London and East Anglia did not get any higher than 2C or 3C, and forecasters are warning that central and eastern areas of England and Wales should expect 5-10cm of snow tomorrow night.
Nick Prebble, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "We have rain reaching western parts of England and Wales tomorrow morning.
"This band of rain, which will eventually cause the snow, will hit Scotland tonight and the rain will hit western fringes of England and Wales tomorrow morning.
"Snow will fall over hills in Wales, the Lake District, across northern England and Scotland by midday. By 3pm a falling of snow is expected in the Midlands, Yorkshire and many eastern parts of Wales and north-east England.
"At about 6pm we're looking at the snow starting to creep into London areas. It will start reaching all areas of south-east England and East Anglia by 10pm."
As the snow hits the East, western areas are expected to become drier and colder, with "big risks" of ice, according to the forecaster.
The deep freeze has seen daytime temperatures plummet four or five degrees lower than average for February - traditionally the coldest month of the year.
A spokesman for the Local Government Association (LGA) said an army of council staff and volunteers would be braving the elements to make sure vulnerable people were cared for, and residents were also being encouraged to call in on elderly neighbours.
"Motorists are being advised to check the latest weather and gritting updates on council websites and 'gritter Twitter' feeds, as well as refresh themselves on winter driving guidance and what to stock in their car," he said.
"Information about school closures and bin collections is also being updated regularly online.
"Thousands of new grit bins have been placed in estates and side streets, residents have been given their own bags of salt along with salt spreaders in some neighbourhoods, and arrangements have been made with parish councils, community groups, snow wardens and farmers to grit hard-to-reach areas.
"There is no law against people clearing pavements or public spaces. Ministers have repeatedly welcomed public-spiritedness and said common sense, benefit of the doubt in favour of helpfulness and a responsibility on people to tread carefully in slippery conditions should prevail in the face of complaints. Many council websites carry advice on clearing pavements."
British Gas said its fleet of all-weather 4x4s was on stand-by to get engineers out to customers and keep Britain warm during the cold snap.
A spokesman said the company had received more than 200,000 calls in the last five days, compared with 120,000 to 140,000 during a normal winter week, and was expecting a further 50,000 this weekend, compared with 20,000 normally in the winter.
A spokesman said: "With the roads becoming treacherous across the country, British Gas's fleet of nearly 100 4x4s will help British Gas to meet its customer commitment, to make same-day visits to 'Homecare' customers who have no heating or hot water and report the problem before 1pm."
The Department for Transport said it was now better prepared than ever for severe winter weather.
It said salt stocks across Great Britain stood at more than 2.4 million tonnes - a million more than last year.
A spokeswoman said January 2011 salt stocks were 810,000 tonnes, while January 2012 stocks were 2.497 million tonnes - a 208% increase.
The AA said its patrols were attending around double the usual number of breakdowns today.
A spokesman said: "All areas of the UK are busy and, as at 12 noon, the AA has attended more than 8,700 breakdowns nationally, up from around 6,500 at the same time yesterday.
"Call-outs peaked this morning at more than 1,800 every hour and the AA expects to attend around 19,000 for the day, double its usual workload."
The coldest places last night were Chesham in Buckinghamshire (minus 11.1C/12F), Benson in Oxfordshire (minus 10.8C/12.6F), South Newington in Oxfordshire (minus 10.3C/13.5F), Sennybridge in Wales (minus 10C/14F) and Shap in Cumbria (minus 9.2C/15.4F).
Forecasters predict these places will remain very cold with similar temperatures over the weekend.
Areas expected to record snowfall of up to 5.9in (15cm) include Cumbria, Lincolnshire, East Anglia, North Yorkshire and the Peak District.
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