LONDON // Snow continued to hammer down over much of Britain last night as the country shivered in record low temperatures.
In the early hours of yesterday, the mercury bottomed out -17°C in Llysdinam, near Llandrindod Wells, a record low for Wales in November, and forecasters said there would be no let-up for several days in the Arctic-like conditions.
Snow blanketed much of the country, Scotland and north-east England in particular, causing the closure of many roads. Police not only advised people to stay off the roads but not even to venture outside their homes.
There was a spate of accidents on the roads and sports fixtures were postponed, including the Scottish Premier League games at Dundee and Motherwell after pitches became unplayable and fears were raised about the state of the roads.
Up to 40cm of snow fell in parts of north-east England and Scotland on Saturday - the most widespread snow at this time of year since 1993. A further 20cm was predicted to fall over eastern Scotland last night.
Snow and ice forced the closure of runways at Luton, Newcastle and Inverness airports while passengers at Jersey Airport in the Channel Islands faced delays after lightning knocked out the radar system overnight.
The unusual weather is being caused by high pressure over Greenland and low pressure in the Baltics, forcing cold winds from the north-east across Europe.
The Automobile Association's motoring rescue service said that it had been called to about 15,000 breakdowns on Saturday, an 80 per cent increase over the normal number.
"It's been another very busy morning. Wales and the eastern coast of Scotland have been the worst affected but it has been pretty busy across the country as a whole," a spokesman for the organisation said yesterday.
"We're also expecting a busy morning tomorrow as people head back to work, particularly if cars have been left sitting over the weekend."
He urged people to check their cars, carry warm clothing and a blanket in the boot, and make sure their mobile phones are fully charged.
Michael Dukes of MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said the combination of light winds, snow cover and clear skies could result in temperatures falling to -20°C in Scotland later this week.
"You are seeing some ridiculously low temperatures. It has been a bit like it is in the middle of Scandinavia," he said.
"There should be a bit more of a breeze over the next day or two, which will not feel quite as extreme. But then we might see temperatures threaten -20°C in the Scottish glens later. This is certainly an extraordinary cold snap."
By last night, the Meteorological Office had severe weather warnings in place for the east coast of Scotland, north-east England, and Yorkshire and Humberside.
Thousands of schoolchildren will get an holiday today because of school closures, which could last all week unless there is an unexpected rise in temperatures.
Ian Mercer, who runs a company that supplies salt for gritting to schools, hospitals and shopping centres, told the BBC: "People are being much more proactive. Last year was the busiest ever, but we've already sold twice as much this year and it's not even December.
"We've had to import salt from places like Russia, Egypt and Sardinia, but even there it's becoming more and more difficult to source. If it continues to be this cold beyond Christmas I think there will be really serious shortages."
The only people really enjoying the unseasonable cold snap were skiers, hundreds of whom took the snows on the Scottish hills.