An artic blast is sweeping the UK, with snow blanketing parts of the country this week and more expected throughout Wednesday.
On Tuesday, people in Scotland, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Yorkshire and Bedfordshire were waking to snow and more sleet and snow is forecast for southern England, south Wales and parts of Scotland today.
Overnight, temperatures dropped to -15.2°C in Kimbrace in Scotland, making it the coldest night of the year so far in the UK.
Temperatures also dropped to -8°C in the North of England.
The UK Health Security Agency has issued a Level 3 Cold Weather Alert for the whole of England which is likely to be reviewed in the coming days and have warned people people to check in on vulnerable relatives and keep their homes heated to at least 18°C.
Dr Agostinho Sousa, Head of Extreme Events and Health Protection at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “During periods like this, it is important to check in on family, friends and relatives who may be more vulnerable to the cold weather, as it can have a serious impact on health.
“If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over the age of 65, it is important to try and heat your home to at least 18°C if you can.’’
Why is it so cold?
The icy temperatures can be put down to an “artic maritime air mass”, the Met Office said. Cold air from the north has pushed south across the whole of the country, and a “a battle between the cold artic air and milder Atlantic air” is creating the conditions for snow, which is likely to result in disruption for many.
Met office chief meteorologist, Matthew Lehnert, said the weather could cut off rural communities in the north of England and Scotland and impact travel over the next few days across southern England and south Wales.
A number of national severe warnings for snow and ice have been issued, with the Met Office saying further warnings, or updates to the current warnings, are “very likely”.
“Snow, ice and low temperatures are the main themes of this week’s forecast, with the UK under an Arctic maritime air mass.
“Snow could lead to some travel disruption, with a chance some rural communities in the north could be cut off.”
The focus of the snow is likely to be southern England and South Wales today, Mr Lehnert said, with further snow and hail showers expected along northern coasts, especially in northern Scotland.
“During the afternoon, a further spell of sleet and snow is likely to develop across southern England and South Wales which could cause travel disruption into the evening. The impact of lying snow and ice on untreated surfaces may have an impact on Thursday morning travel.”
On Wednesday morning, the snow was already causing disruption to parts of southern England and Wales, with over 100 schools closed across Wales and flights in Bristol grounded.
How often does it snow in March?
The Met Office has said that so far, the March cold snap is not highly unusual, with it being known as a month with high levels of changeability in the weather. Statistically, it is marginally more likely to snow in March than it is in December in the UK.
Dr Mark McCarthy, of the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre, said that March 2018 – when the so-called “Beast from the East” blew into the UK – and March 2013 were notably cold, delivering icy temperatures and a lot of snowfall across the country.
“For the first three days of March 2018 there were more than 100 weather observation stations recording at least 2 centimetres of lying snow.
“Just over 50 of these stations had 10cm or more for those first three days. In some locations this snow persisted until 18 March when there was another widespread snow event,” he said in a post on the Met Office website.
March 2013 was the coldest winter since 1962 and its snow events were clustered towards the end of the month, Mr McCarthy said.
The Met Office has said it is too early to assess how the snow record for this March will sit alongside previous years, but that this cold spell will be a “memorable one” for many.