A BLAST of Arctic weather is expected to hit Scotland later today sending temperatures well below zero and causing road chaos.
The north of Scotland is expected to be hardest-hit but many areas of the country will experience snowstorms and temperatures as low as minus 10C, feeling even colder when wind-chill is taken into account.
The Met Office yesterday issued a severe weather warning, bringing to a sudden end an unusually mild spell of January weather. In some areas of Scotland falls of snow of up to 15cm are forecast and police in the north of the country are already warning against non-essential travel.
The greatest risk of serious disruption is likely to be in the Hebrides, Shetland and the north-west of the country, but the south of Scotland is also expected to be affected by snow and frost.
Andy Bodenham, national forecaster with the Met Office, said a band of cold weather was expected to hit the north of the country this afternoon and would not lift until at least Thursday.
He added: "From as early as Sunday night you can expect some snow. The cold Arctic blast will be across so Scotland will see it first. It will then get really cold, with daytime temperatures no higher than zero, especially in the north of the country in the Highlands and Grampian hills."
The lower-lying southern part of the country was also expected to be affected by sleet and snow showers. Even in the Central Belt and south of Scotland it is being predicted that, although skies will remain clear, frost will form into icy patches.
Cold air which came in from the Atlantic was already bringing lower temperatures in some areas yesterday. Glasgow saw a temperature of 5C (41F) at midday, compared with 10C (50F) 24 hours earlier.
In response to the dropping temperatures colder weather, William Hill is offering odds for the lowest temperatures ever recorded in the UK being beaten this year.
The bookmaker was offering 8/1 odds for a new record being set, smashing the temperature of -27C which was set at Braemar in Aberdeenshire on January 10, 1982.
Police have asked drivers to avoid unnecessary journeys and climbers, walkers and other outdoor pursuit enthusiasts were warned to reconsider activities they may have planned for the early part of the week.
The cold air is also expected to grip the rest of the UK, reaching southern England by tomorrow night.
There will be heavy snow showers and severe conditions in northern and eastern England, Wales and the west during Tuesday and Wednesday. Temperatures are unlikely to get above freezing anywhere on Wednesday, even in London, and Thursday and Friday are expected to remain cold.
In the Highlands, a Northern Constabulary spokesman said motorists in the region and the north-west of the country should avoid using the roads during the earlier part of the week. "We are asking for people not to travel unless they it was absolutely necessary. We would advise people not to take their car out or go hill walking.
"Even walking a great distance from A to B certainly wouldn’t be advisable in poor weather conditions. We would ask people to be vigilant for their neighbours, particularly their elderly neighbours, to make sure that they are safe."
Inspector Keith Henderson, of Grampian Police, echoed the advice and warned drivers to be especially wary on rural roads, which would not be gritted as regularly as major trunk roads.
"The biggest problem will be in open and rural areas as drifting snow will build up very quickly," he said. "If there is a relatively straight road then even two or three centimetres of snow can build up into something much bigger."
Householders were also warned to protect their properties as the temperatures fall by preventing their water pipes from freezing. British Gas is predicting that the plummeting temperatures could trigger more than 20,000 emergency calls a day. It advised householders to check stopcocks are working and that pipe work, tanks and cisterns are well insulated.
It also said homes should be heated constantly even at a low level.
The AA warned motorists to ensure their vehicles were prepared for the cold weather by checking batteries and anti-freeze levels. It also said there would be "no excuses" if the authorities failed to keep roads clear.
Elaine Mitchell, spokeswoman for the AA in Scotland, added: "We have had a really mild winter and a lot of cars having been getting by even if their batteries are on their last legs or they don’t have the right amount of anti-freeze in their windscreen wash.
"Your car battery may have just been getting by but as soon as the temperatures drop it will freeze up and mean you are waiting for hours for a recovery truck. We have had lots of warning about what’s happening now is just about making sure you and your car are fit for the trip.
"If you know you’re going into bad weather then it’s sensible to have a shovel, an old blanket and a chocolate bar or hot drink in the car."
HOUSEHOLDS and businesses in Scotland were last night warned to protect their properties from flooding which could be caused by plummeting temperatures.
Scottish Water, which last month launched a campaign to raise awareness of insulation and prevent household flooding, said this week’s cold snap could result in thousands of pounds of damage from frozen or burst pipes.
Customer service director Cheryl Black said: "If a property is going to be unoccupied for any period of time next week, leave the heating on at a low level at all times. If this is not possible, turn the water supply off at the stop valve and drain the system down or leave a key with a neighbour in case a problem arises."
British Gas has also advised householders to check stopcocks are working and that pipe work and tanks are well insulated.