New Year's Eve revellers have been warned that they face freezing temperatures when they see in 2009.
Nearly 400,000 people are expected to take to the streets of London ahead of a midnight fireworks display centred on the London Eye. Similar outdoor events in Cardiff, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh should also prove popular. But weather forecasters believe temperatures could fall to -5C.
The Met Office said an extended period of cold and settled weather lasting for the next fortnight will follow the chilliest start to winter in more than 30 years. The first 13 days of December were the coldest since 1976: temperatures averaged 1.7C – three degrees lower than the long-term trend.
Stephen Holman, senior Met Office forecaster, said: "By midnight on New Year's Eve it will definitely feel very cold. I would advise people to wrap up warm. The temperatures will stay colder than average for the first two weeks of January." The AA asked motorists to bring warm clothing, blankets, food supplies and a torch on long journeys.
Event organisers said they did not expect the freezing conditions to dissuade revellers. Tickets for Hogmanay in Glasgow and Edinburgh, where outdoor events were cancelled two years ago because of high winds and torrential rain, have sold out.
But the popularity of free events is not being matched by demand for setpiece parties. Tickets were still available yesterday for high-profile events including Sir Elton John's concert at the O2 arena in Greenwich, London. Tables were available for the Dorchester Hotel's six-course dinner with live music and dancing (£320 a head).
This year's celebrations in London may be the last with a free New Year's Eve fireworks display. London's Mayor, Boris Johnson, confirmed that he is considering the introduction of ticketing to bring increased "sustainability" to the £1.6m show. "The planning, management and financing of the event remains a challenge, due to the large numbers of people wishing to attend the fireworks and the limited [180,000] capacity of the viewing areas," said Mr Johnson. "Only 40 per cent of the event budget is spent on the actual fireworks and lighting displays. The remainder is spent on crowd management.
"We are considering a number of options, which may include ticketing, all of which will ensure the sustainability of future New Year's Eve celebrations."
A survey for National Savings & Investments found that 76 per cent of people will either celebrate tonight by staying in – or only going out to a free event. The poll of 2,000 adults found just 15 per cent of revellers were prepared to pay as much as it took to enable them to go to the best restaurant, club or bar.
Hoteliers in London and Scotland said an influx of European travellers drawn by the fall of the pound against the euro was helping to boost revenues.
New Year's Eve: Free events
Midnight: After Big Ben, fireworks over London Eye. Screens in Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square relay the event live. Free public transport until 4.30am.
Midnight: Ten minutes of fireworks next to big wheel in Exchange Square.
Midnight: Fireworks display in Centenary Square.
From 7.30pm: Free concert in Civic Centre with ex- X Factor contestant Andy Abraham singing in new year.
Midnight: Fireworks display in Foreshore Park.
Roads: 60 sets of roadworks have been completed or suspended for the festive period. Works remain at 28 locations including A1(M) J58-59; M1 J25-28; M4 J5-7; M5 J11-11a; M6 J5-4; M25 J26-27.
Rail: Reduced services: First Great Western between London and Reading, Oxford, Swindon until New Year's Day; Virgin Trains between London Euston and Birmingham and Manchester until New Year's Day. Suspended services: South West Trains between Clapham Junction and Barnes until 4 January.