Motorists warned of downpour danger

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The Independent Online

Much of the UK was braced for a major downpour today that is likely to create hazardous driving conditions.

Up to 40mm of rain could fall as rain lashes Wales, south-west and north-west England and west and south-west Scotland, the Met Office said. Severe gales are also expected in Orkney and Shetland.

The deluge began last night, prompting forecasters to issue a severe weather warning for the areas.

Experts advised the public to take "extra care" and keep abreast of flood warnings and updates on road conditions.

Meanwhile the Environment Agency issued a total of 31 flood watch notices for the North West, Midlands and Thames area, with seven notices in force across Scotland.

They warn residents: "Flooding of low-lying land and roads is expected. Be aware, be prepared, watch out."

The alerts came as experts said the UK has experienced its coldest start to winter in more than 30 years.

The first third of December has been more nippy than normal, with the average temperature just 1.7C (35.06F), according to the Met Office.

That is a marked drop on the long-term average of 4.7C (40.46F), suggesting the season could buck the trend for very mild winters.

Such a cold start to the month has not been seen since the 1970s, when UK average temperatures dropped to 0.8C (33.44F) in 1976, a spokesman said.

Some respite for those feeling the cold is expected in January and February, which are set to see milder conditions, though still with some cold snaps.

Michael Dukes, forecast manager at MeteoGroup UK, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "It certainly has been a very cold start to December.

"The reason it's been so cold so far is that the Atlantic's been fairly quiet.

"We've had polar air dominating the UK's weather - air originally from Greenland or the North Pole."

The month - and season - could still turn out to be mild overall, but winter woollies will remain necessary as the chill continues next week.

Nick Grahame, the Met Office's chief forecaster, said: "The start of the weekend will bring a spell of wet and windy weather as milder Atlantic air attempts to push across the country.

"However, colder air looks set to win the battle again which means that frost and ice will become hazards with the risk of snow in places."

The Met Office defines winter as the months December, January and February.