UK Weather: Beast From The East Threatens Britain As Snow Heads In For Weekend
Freezing temperatures as low as -11C have hit the UK as cold weather blasts in from from Eastern Europe, where hundreds of people have died from the bitter conditions.
The icy blasts are predicted to sweep across from the continent in a phenomenon being dubbed the "beast from the east" this weekend, with snow forecast to blanket parts of Britain.
Europe has been suffering under severe and inhospitable weather conditions, with the death toll rising to 163 as lows as perishing as -30C reach Romania and Poland.
Chesham in Buckinghamshire recorded a temperature of -11C at 5am on Friday morning, and forecasters have warned residents not to expect much better during the day. A maximum of 2C across the UK is expected during daylight hours.
It comes after the Met Office raised fears for the elderly and ill by issuing its first country-wide Level 3 Cold Weather Alert of the winter. It is the first serious warning as part of the Government's Cold Weather Plan and are relayed to organisations such as Age UK, which help the elderly through winter.
Mervyn Kohler from Age UK told the Guardian "We have to strike a balance between the risk of sounding patronising and the importance of the advice. People who coped fine with very severe winters a few decades ago might not realise that their bodies are more sensitive to extremes of cold as well as heat.
"It's a message we have to get across: the cold is a killer."
Meanwhile, the severe weather warnings threatening the "beast from the east" are in place until Sunday, with icy conditions expected in parts of the England today and snow forecast in Wales, south-west Scotland and much of England tomorrow.
Tom Tobler, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association said: "Most places will see temperatures of no more than 1C or 2C today and a few won't get above zero.
"By tomorrow morning there's some patchy rain and snow arriving in north-west UK.
"It will move south eastwards during the day, bringing quite a lot of snow with it.
"There could be several centimetres in much of the country, except for some western areas where it will turn more readily to rain.
"The snow should clear through Sunday, although we might see a bit more in the South East in the morning."
With temperatures this week as low as minus 6.2C in Pershore, Worcestershire, minus 6.1C in South Farnborough, Hampshire, and minus 5.7C in Hurn, Dorset, the Cold Weather Alert is expected to remain in force until the weekend.
The Met Office said: "This weather could increase the health risks to vulnerable patients and disrupt the delivery of services."
The only higher alert is Level 4, which sees normally healthy people at risk from the cold.
While the sub-zero temperatures continue, a new shelter has opened for rough sleepers in the capital, funded by London Mayor Boris Johnson and run by homeless charity St Mungo's.
It's the homeless that are most at risk as the perishing cold poses a death-risk to an already vulnerable community.
Plans are in place throughout the winter to ensure the 24-hour shelter in Lambeth is open and ready to receive people whenever three consecutive nights of freezing temperatures are predicted.
However conditions in England are comparatively mild compared to the bleak ague across Europe. The death toll continues to rise as some locations see record lows. Snow and frost have been cutting off the most isolated regions. Around 11,500 people were trapped in a mountain village in Serbia after heavy snowfall.
The cold weather has killed more than a 100 in the Ukraine. Of those, 64 were homeless people that were found on the streets.
Popular travel destinations are even worse off, with temperatures such as minus 14C in Berlin, minus 17C in Prague, minus 8C in Paris, minus 13C in Stockholm and minus 20C in Warsaw.
Britain's deep freeze marks a severe change from the clement climes experienced last year. Sunbathing weather in September and October, combined with warm temperatures and a marked lack of overnight frost during November and December meant that 2011 was the second warmest year since records began for the UK
However daytime temperatures in February have plummeted four or five degrees lower than average for the month - a month already traditionally the coldest month of the year.
Meanwhile, letters have been sent to 675,000 homes across England to raise awareness of home energy grants.
The mailshot concentrated on areas where there are high levels of fuel poverty, such as Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and County Durham.
Pensioners and people on very low incomes can get money off having their heating system repaired or replaced, or their lofts insulated.
As the AA announces it was 80% busier than normal due to the cold causing a surge in flat batteries, Homeserve released these cold weather tips:
1. Deal with dripping taps
Should be first port of call to deal with a dripping taps. These are susceptible to freezing, so change the washers - a quick, cheap job that could save a fortune in the long run.
2. Insulate your pipes
Pipes don't burst where they freeze. It tends to be between the frozen section and the closed faucet, when pressure builds up as a result of the ice freezing and expanding. To help prevent them freezing in the first place, insulate them with lagging or a quarter-inch layer of newspapers. Wrapping this in tin foil improves the insulation further.
3. Protect your boiler
It's not just your water pipes that need insulating. Your boiler's condensate pipe - the plastic pipe that carries condensation from the boiler to the outside drain, usually through the un-insulated external wall - can also be susceptible to freezing. This can knock out your boiler at the worst time possible. Prevent having to defrost a condensate pipe by insulating this in the same way as a water pipe as above.
4. Find your stopcock
Make sure you know where your water stopcock is located. If you suffer a burst pipe you'll be happy you found it in advance. Further ways to prevent burst pipes can be found on the Homeserve website.
5. Learn how to defrost a pipe safely
If your pipes do freeze, you can often prevent them bursting by defrosting them safely. Turn off the mains, open the nearest tap to the frozen pipe and carefully thaw the ice in the pipe with a hairdryer or hot water bottles. Start at the tap end and work backwards towards the cold water tank. Take care as the pipe could burst at any time and spray water as it starts to thaw.
6. Stock up for snow
A cold snap can catch authorities unawares. There's still time to stock-up on salt or sand to place on your driveway, along with a shovel to clear any snow. For icy paths, you can also use liberal handfuls of table salt, dishwasher salt or even cat litter to clear a path