BRITAIN was braced for a deluge of up to six inches of snow today as flights were cancelled and sporting fixtures axed. Temperatures plunged lower than -12°C last night making it the coldest night of the winter so far.
Most of the country is expected to wake up to a blanket of snow tomorrow.
Large swathes of the UK have been issued an amber alert by the Met Office, its second highest severe weather warning, as a third of tomorrow's flights at Heathrow were cancelled.
The warning applies to Yorkshire and Humber, the West Midlands, East Midlands, the East, the South West, London, the South East and the North West. Manchester began seeing heavy snowfall at midday and six inches of snow is expected across Cumbria, Lincolnshire, East Anglia, North Yorkshire, the Peak District and the Midlands where -9°C is expected tonight.
On the roads, motorists face a "dangerous cocktail of driving conditions" as forecasters warned the freezing weather was here to stay. The Highways Agency has extended its own amber alert until 9am tomorrow, meaning there is a "high probability" of severe snow affecting the road network.
On the south coast, Portsmouth's home match against Hull City was the first Championship fixture cancelled due to a frozen pitch. But brave swimmers in London would not be put off and still found the courage to dive into the Serpentine in Hyde Park this morning.
Met Office forecaster Michael Lawrence said: "We have got a band of rain, sleet and snow pushing in from western parts. "This is running over colder air and that's going to give some fairly significant snowfall, mainly in eastern and central parts of Britain and – to some extent - large parts of the UK."
A yellow alert, which warns people to "be aware", is in place for parts of Scotland, Wales and north-west England.
The RAC urged drivers to stay at home as conditions looked set to deteriorate this afternoon. It comes after the mercury dropped to -12.4°C in South Newington, Oxon, last night.
Kevin Andrews, an RAC patrol ambassador, said: "It looks like we're going to get a dangerous cocktail of driving conditions this weekend, with heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures making the roads extremely treacherous." The Department for Transport said it was well prepared for the big chill with salt stocks standing at more than 2.4million tons - a million more than last year.
But it was little comfort to football fans in Portsmouth whose home match against Hull City was cancelled due to the icy weather.
Heathrow Airport began cancelling flights to minimise disruption if weather hits hard. Luton and Birmingham airports have remained closed tonight after heavy snowfall. Stansted airport are set to reopen tomorrow morning. Heathrow's chief operating officer, Normand Boivin, said: "This decision ensures that the greatest number of passengers can fly with the minimum amount of disruption.
"It also means that those passengers whose flights are cancelled will know in advance, and can make alternative arrangements or rebook in relative comfort."
A WOMAN was rushed to hospital with hypothermia after being rescued from a frozen lake. The 35-year-old was seen walking on the lake near Attenborough Nature Reserve in Nottingham.
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