In Brief

UK weather: how long is the 'big freeze' going to last?

Cold weather alert issued, warning vulnerable people to stay warm as low temperatures continue

The Met Office has issued an amber cold weather alert, the level just below "national emergency", for the next four days as the mercury plummets to its lowest level this winter.

An amber alert means that severe cold weather is likely to "significantly" affect people's health, particularly high-risk groups such as the very young, very old and people with chronic diseases.

According to the Met Office, there is a 90 per cent chance of severe cold weather and icy conditions between now and Thursday for the whole of England, except for London and the two most southern regions in England, where a third-tier yellow alert is in place.

"Large areas of England will experience colder than average conditions in the coming week, with widespread overnight frosts," say forecasters. "Some wintry precipitation is expected for most areas too, mostly in the form of scattered showers, leading to lying snow and icy stretches."

The warning came yesterday morning, before Loch Glascarnoch, in Scotland, measured a temperature of -11.2C last night, the coldest of the winter.

The cold weather alert system, set up by the Met and Public Health England, operates in England from the 1 November to 31 March every year.

Dr Angie Bone, of the extreme events team at Public Health England, told The Guardian that "cold does kill" and advised people to think of ways to help vulnerable friends and family.

When will it end?

The Met Office has warned of more icy conditions and possible snow later this week, with widespread overnight frosts and colder than average conditions.

Temperatures are predicted to be "below normal" until mid-February, with night-time frosts and a "wintry mix of rain, sleet and perhaps snow in places".

The Met Office says that there are "no clear signals" for long-term cold weather predictions beyond then, into March. "Nevertheless," it adds, "short spells of cold weather are still possible, with current predictions suggesting these are more likely to occur than last year".

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