The first heavy snowfall of winter will hit Britain this weekend – with up to eight inches set to cover some areas.
Snow could fall as far south as the Midlands on Saturday and Sunday – and other areas face a soaking with up to an inch of rain forecast further south and west in England and Wales, bringing the risk of localised flooding.
Experts are predicting ‘significant’ snowfall this weekend, while freezing winds from Russia will also lash the country. The strong winds could reach gale force, with gusts of 55mph to 60mph expected.
Forecasters predict up to two inches of snow over the Cheviots, Lake District, Pennines, Welsh Mountains and North York Moors on Saturday, with a dusting at lower levels. In the Highlands, up to eight inches could fall.
It follows a mostly dry few days, apart from South West England, where rain is forecast today, as a ridge of high pressure has brought settled although often cloudy and cold conditions.
The Met Office has issued a snow and ice warning from 3pm Saturday until 10am Sunday. But the snow is only set to be temporary as milder air moves in behind the front, sending temperatures rising from 6C (43F) to 13C (55F).
Met Office forecaster Greg Dewhurst said: ‘There is due to be quite a big change in the weather this weekend. This week has been fairly settled, with mainly cloudy but chilly days and some bright spells in the east.
‘That pattern is due to continue up to the weekend. But the weather front will start to come into the West late on Saturday morning and move east, clearing most places by the early hours of Sunday.
‘The heaviest snow is due to be across Scotland, but there could still be 2 to 5cm on the high ground of northern England and perhaps a lesser covering on lower ground. Snow could fall as far south as the north Midlands.
‘Rain will be widespread elsewhere across the UK, heaviest across Northern Ireland, western England and Wales, where we could see 5 to 10mm, or 20 to 30mm on high ground. There could be a risk of some localised flooding.’
Behind the frontal system will be milder air bringing spells of sunshine and blustery showers for Sunday. Before the weekend, daytime temperatures are likely to be up to 6C (43F) in the East and up to 10C (50F) in the West.
But Mr Dewhurst said that as the weather front moves east, temperatures behind it could rise to 13C (55F), against the mid-December daytime average of 7C (45F) in northern England and 9C (48F) in the South.
‘The weather pattern is due to stay mild and unsettled through next week,’ Mr Dewhurst added. ‘Later in the month, there could be colder interludes but milder air is likely to move back in quickly.’
The forecast will be a blow for Scottish retailers, hoping for a brisk trade in the second-last shopping weekend before Christmas. It is feared snow may keep shoppers indoors buying online instead of on the high street.
Retailers are already facing a ‘nerve-racking’ run-up to December 25. Scottish Retail Consortium figures, released this week, found sales fell by 1.6 per cent last month compared with the same period last year.
Football fans in Scotland are being warned the weather may affect fixtures. On Saturday, St Johnstone are due to host Motherwell in Perth, while Dundee United travel to face Inverness Caley Thistle in the Championship.
In its longer-range forecast, the Met Office said: ‘Heading into the Christmas week, it will probably stay unsettled, with further spells of wind and rain, but interspersed by some brighter and showery weather.
‘Temperatures on the whole look likely to be a little milder than average. However, there is a small chance of colder temperatures, which could bring snow to hilltops in the north, and perhaps to low levels for a time in the North East.’
It is unlikely the snowfall this weekend will be as bad as the Beast from the East in March, when the UK ground to a halt. Vehicles were abandoned and businesses closed – but many people went sledging in the streets.
Last week, the first big freeze of winter – with temperatures as low as -3C (26F) – led to many people attending A&E after falls. More than 80 people were queuing at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital yesterday morning.