THE first significant snow for a month will sweep into eastern Scotland today and cover the whole country by Monday, forecasters have warned.
A yellow severe weather warning - “be aware” - was issued by the Met Office for the next three days, with up to 10cm (4in) in some areas and the risk of travel disruption.
Ministers urged drivers to be on their guard in the freezing conditions as the Automobile Association warned that three in four motorists were not prepared for conditions on the roads.
Forecasters said the cold snap was likely to bring widespread ice, with temperatures expected to drop to -6C in parts of Scotland.
The Met Office said showers in eastern Scotland today would turn increasingly wintry in the afternoon and evening, with snow likely across much of the mainland at the same time tomorrow.
A spokesman said: “Inland, away from the western coastal fringes, the snow is liable to settle.
“At low levels, falls are likely to be in the region of 2-5cm (1-2in). Ground above 200m (670ft), notably in the Grampians and Highlands, might see more significant accumulations, of 10cm (4in).
“An area of rain, sleet and hill snow spreading into north-western Scotland by early Monday is expected to turn increasingly to snow to low levels as it moves south-eastwards through the day.
“Some accumulations of around 5cm of snow are likely over low ground with perhaps 10cm or more over higher ground.”
Transport minister Keith Brown said a meeting was held yesterday to discuss transport preparations, and ministers would be receiving regular updates.
He said: “After a mild spell, the Met Office say we are now heading back into colder conditions. That means drivers will have to be on their guard more than ever, especially when driving in freezing conditions.
“A number of improvements have been introduced to help inform decision-making. This includes having more salt in stock or on order than ever before, additional gritters and specialist equipment, new weather stations and cameras, and improved communications.”
Met Office spokesman Alexa Jones said: “On Saturday there will be outbreaks of rain and sleet with some snow.
“On Sunday morning, these wintry showers might turn to light snow.
“Snow showers are also likely to affect northern England and Scotland on Sunday and we could get 5cm-10cm (2-4in) there.”
John Lee, a forecaster with Meteogroup, said: “It will be very cold over the weekend and will be staying cold into next week, with temperatures quite widely not getting above 4C during the day.”
The AA, Britain’s biggest motoring group, said it had put a severe weather team on standby.
It urged drivers to carry an essential winter kit and check their cars before getting behind the wheel.
Andy Smith, of the AA, said: “It’s very difficult to predict the extent of the weather but there could be some disruption even on local journeys, so keep an eye on the weather and traffic reports, and plan accordingly.
“Even if there’s no snow where you’re travelling, it’s likely to be icy in places.
“Keep your speed down, particularly on rural and ungritted side roads, and take extra care when approaching junctions and roundabouts.”
The RAC said it was expecting up to 56,000 breakdowns and widespread disruption on the roads, which could hamper millions of motorists.
It has placed extra patrols on stand-by to help stranded motorists and said call-outs are expected to rise by 20 per cent.
Roadside operations manager Matt Dallaway said: “Even half an inch of snow can bring roads to a standstill and leave drivers stranded in their cars.”