A sudden cold snap, but don't bet on a white Christmas

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The Independent Online

A pre-Christmas cold snap caused treacherous conditions yesterday as the first heavy snows of winter fell on Britain's roads.

A pre-Christmas cold snap caused treacherous conditions yesterday as the first heavy snows of winter fell on Britain's roads.

Severe weather warnings were issued for Scotland, the Midlands, East Anglia and parts of south-east England as northerly winds brought Arctic conditions to many parts of the country.

Ski resorts in the Cairngorms were closed after snowfalls made access roads impassable. Meteorologists said snow showers could be expected as far south as Kent today.

Coastguards issued a warning yesterday urging people to stop "wave-dodging" on exposed seashores as winds gusting to force 11 whipped up seas along the east coast. A spokesman for Humber Coastguard said: "It is incredibly dangerous - not just for those playing in the waves but also for whoever has to go in and rescue them. We don't want any tragedies in the run-up to Christmas.

The odds on a white Christmas lengthened from 4-1 to 6-1 yesterday as forecasters predicted a rise in temperatures would herald a wet and windy festive season. Bookmakers, who would face a six-figure pay-out if snow falls on the roof of London Weather Centre on 25 December, were confident.

A spokesman for Coral said: "Unless the forecasts prove spectacularly wrong, it will be the bookies and not the punters cracking open the champagne on Christmas Day."

After a dry and frosty start today, snow is expected to be confined to eastern parts of the country.

The Highways Agency has announced emergency planning measures designed to avoid a repeat of last winter's unexpected cold snap which left hundreds of motorists stranded overnight after motorways were left ungritted.

A fleet of 700 gritters will be deployed from 150 depots to keep motorways and trunk roads clear for the 18 million cars expected to take to Britain's roads over the holiday period.

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