Britain is set to see a ‘White Easter’ as a polar plunge strikes the country, bringing snow , ice and temperatures as low as -14C. The plunge – the same phenomenon that triggered the 2010 Big Freeze – is expected to result in colder-than-average weather across the UK in late March.
Temperatures will drop to below zero most nights throughout the month, leading to potentially dangerous snowy and icy conditions, forecasters say.
These snowy conditions, along with the two-week school holidays, are likely to see families facing transport problems at one of the busiest times of year for leisure travel. The Met Office said the cause of the expected chill is the same sudden polar ‘plunge’ that delivered two-week freezes with widespread snow and -14C to-18C lows in recent years.
Known as a ‘Sudden Stratospheric Warming,’ high-altitude air over the North Pole warms up, shunting cold low-level Arctic air south to Britain for up to 14 days.
Three previous SSWs to hit Britain saw -18.4C in Highland, Scotland, in February 2009, -18C in Powys, Wales, in November 2010 – starting a month-long freeze – and January 2013’s -13.6C two-week cold spell.
March’s snow potential is being boosted as the Met Office said the month is favoured to see higher-than-normal rainfall – which falls as snow in freezing air. The Met Office March to May forecast is being briefed to the Cabinet Office, transport bosses, councils and emergency services.
Britain’s coldest ever March temperature is -22.8C, on March 14, 1958, at Logie Coldstone, Aberdeenshire. The coldest ever April temperature is -15.0C on April 2, 1917, at Newton Rigg, Cumbria.
Forecaster Brian Gaze of The Weather Outlook said: “With the cold pattern persisting and a cold start to spring, the chances of snow at Easter are quite high.”
A Met Office forecaster said: “March looks generally unsettled. Rather cold and changeable conditions look likely to dominate mid-March, with the airflow coming from a northwesterly direction much of the time.
“Temperatures will be generally rather below average for March, with overnight frosts expected on many nights. There will be local sleet or snow.”
The Met Office March to May forecast said: “The greatest risk of cold weather impacts is in late March and early April, due to the likelihood of a sudden stratospheric warming event.
“These events more often than not result in conditions associated with colder and drier-than-average conditions across the UK in early spring.
“There are renewed signals for a sudden stratospheric warming in early March, with the potential to increase the chances of cold weather later in March and early April.” It comes as the Government has issued a health warning for ‘severe cold’ in the North and Midlands over the weekend, lasting until lunchtime on Tuesday – the first day of spring.
The Met Office warned of snow and sleet mixed with rain as most parts are due showers from Monday to Wednesday. Higher ground is most at risk of snow.
Temperatures hit -8C early on Saturday in Scotland and -7C in England. Nights down to -4C are forecast by MeteoGroup. The Met Office Cold Alert said: “There is a 90 per cent probability of severe cold. Cold nights are expected in the North and Midlands. The South and East will feel cold.
“Rain, perhaps preceded by snow, is expected to cross the country during Monday and Tuesday.” A Met Office forecaster added: “On Wednesday, colder weather with scattered heavy wintry showers will spread to all areas.”