Snow falls as Britain freezes over

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Britons awoke to a smattering of snow this morning, as communities in the northern part of England and Scotland ushered in December with a festive dusting of the white stuff.

Pockets of the North West and North East reported a few millimetres of snowfall overnight, as temperatures struggled to peak above freezing in many places.

And forecasters say further bursts of sleet and snow are expected this weekend, as Britain braces itself for widespread overnight frosts.

MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said "just a few millimetres" fell last night, but said: "There's a chance we'll see more snow before the weekend's out."

The white start to the month was enough to prompt record numbers placing bets on snowfall for Christmas Day.

According to bookmakers Ladbrokes, more money had been staked on a white Christmas by today than by any other December 1 in its history.

Last night's snowfall came after 10 days of flooding misery in the UK, where much of south-west England, the Midlands and north Wales were hit by heavy rainfall and gusty winds.

Three people died, hundreds were evacuated from their homes, and thousands of motorists were left stranded as roads were smothered by surging flood water.

At its peak last weekend, four severe flood warnings were put in place, indicating an immediate risk to life due to serious flooding.

Around 150 alerts were in place this morning, with nearly 20 flood warnings - where the risk of flooding is expected - in the south-east of England and the Midlands. However, that number dropped to 120 by lunchtime, and an agency spokeswoman said there was no immediate risk of further flooding as a direct result of the overnight snowfall.

MeteoGroup spokesman Brendan Jones said the country had slipped below freezing in places, adding: "There is a northerly wind blowing across which is why it is so cold, close to minus 5C in some areas.

"It will stay cold for most of next week with a chance of more frost, ice and snow in some areas."

Light snowfall was reported in Cumbria, Teesside and County Durham, while an inch has covered the Pennines and the Southern Uplands.

The Met Office issued a low-level warning of severe weather, affecting much of the UK for the morning.

It said: "Due to the recent wet weather there is an increased risk of icy patches, even on roads that have been treated with salt, where water run off/seepage may wash off any earlier salt treatment.

"The public should be aware of the risk of ice on roads and pavements."

It said there was a real chance of sleet and snow in northern England and much of Scotland by midnight tomorrow, issuing cold weather alerts for much of Britain today.

In Gloucestershire, where the threat of ice lingers having been battered by heavy rainfall last week, the county council's gritting teams are expected to be out throughout the weekend as the weather remains cold.

The council's 33-strong team of gritters will be going out treating key routes around the county in the evening and again in the early hours of the morning, it said.

Emergency services and breakdown companies have also warned motorists to take extra care as the cold weather - tipped to be as low as minus 5C in some areas next week - tightens its grip on the country.

The AA reported record flood-related call-outs at the height of the travel disruption last month, as landslides and debris brought parts of Britain's transport network to its knees, prompting motorists to take a chance on the roads.

Patroller Andy Smith warned today: "This weekend will be winter's first serious test for drivers and their cars.

"Ice is the real concern, as it's been so wet recently, and it's very hard to distinguish between a puddle on the road and treacherous black ice."

He warned motorists to keep their speed down, leave adequate travel time for journeys, and to conduct basic checks to ensure the vehicle is in proper working order.

PA

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