Significant snowfall across Britain is expected to cause disruption throughout today and tomorrow as the possibility of a white Easter looms.
The southern counties of England are expected to take the brunt of heavy, repeated snow showers moving in from the south west, followed by a second band of wintry weather which will hit eastern and central parts of Scotland and England.
But there is potential for a dusting of snow in all areas bringing with it a risk of travel problems for morning and evening rush hour.
Up to 10cms (3.9 inches) will settle in the worst affected areas, including Kent, Sussex and southern Hampshire, as well as over higher ground in areas like the Pennines, while large areas could see around up to 4cm accumulate.
The arrival of snow and freezing temperatures is not only expected to cause havoc on the roads but also in the trees, as birds who have recently returned to Britain expecting springtime weather struggle with the surprise cold snap.
Temperatures will remain below freezing in many areas in the next few days, with minimum temperatures as low as -7C.
James Wilby, forecaster for Meteogroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: “One band of snow will move in from the south west spreading east along the coast and southern regions to Kent and moving as far north as the M4 corridor.
“There will be a build up of up to 4cms most areas, and up to 10cms in the worst hit - London will also see a few cms in some places.
“This snow will continue overnight and begin easing on Tuesday morning, and will be accompanied with strong gusts of wind.”
He said that further snow showers in the east and central parts of Scotland and England may not settle for long, but will last throughout today and tomorrow.
“There will be a pattern of snow falling and the sun coming out to melt it, before more snow falls and is melted again.
“But in all areas the snow will sporadic, areas only ten miles apart will see big differences from heavy snow fall to no snow fall.”
Senior meteorologist Julian Mayes of Meteogroup said that the freezing temperatures which will accompany the snow fall makes this possibly the chilliest weather of the winter season.
The Met Office has issued an amber warning of snow in the south west and yellow warnings across east Scotland and England and in the southern regions, urging the public to be prepared for disruption.
The cold snap is an unwelcome surprise for birds coming back to the UK expecting mild weather after time spent in the warmth of Africa.
Grahame Madge, a spokesman for the RSPB, said sand martins are already arriving back from hotter climes for the British summertime, and will face “very hard conditions”.
He said: “They are going to come back and find that there’s no food.”
The cold weather will kill off any insects that have emerged, therefore leaving insect-eating birds hungry.
“There’s a limit to the amount people can do. We would ask people to carry on putting food out. For birds that rely on insects there’s really nothing people can do,” he said.
Mr Wilby added that there is likely to be more snow showers throughout the rest of the week.
Although forecasters could not comment on the likelihood of a white Easter due to it being too far ahead, Ladbrokes said they were forced to slash the odds of snow reappearing across Easter weekend.
Yesterday it was even money for snow to fall in any major city, and there’s a 4/1 chance it is the coldest Easter on record, Ladbrokes said.
Jessica Bridge, spokeswoman for Ladbrokes, said: “The odds of snow falling over Easter are dropping as quick as the temperatures.
“Only a week ago the UK was basking in the sunshine but there’s no chance that this month will be the warmest March on record now.”
The bookmakers said snow could also play havoc with Cheltenham Festival next week.
Motoring services firm RAC said it expects potential breakdowns to increase by 20% over the next few days and have an increased number of patrols planned.
The firm said motorists should “proceed with caution”.
A spokesman for the Highways Agency said: “The Highways Agency, which operates and maintains motorways and strategic roads in England, is well prepared for ice and snow.
“It has over 500 winter vehicles - salt spreaders, ploughs and snow blowers - on standby at over 100 depots to help keep traffic moving.
“Using data from the Met Office, it is able to treat the strategic road network before road temperatures fall below freezing.
“We advise people to check local weather conditions and be prepared to allow more time for their journey.”