Brits will be hit with a polar windchill as temperatures plummet to -10C tonight – making it colder than the closest village to the North Pole.
A Yellow Ice and Snow warning has been issued across Scotland, the east Midlands, the east of England, north east England and Yorkshire tonight and tomorrow.
PA The Met Office has warned there will up to eight inches of snow in North Yorkshire and Scotland tonight and some flurries could be seen in London and the south east.
Public Health England declared a Level 2 cold weather health alert until Saturday, warning hospitals to prepare to be busier than normal.
Health staff have also been ordered to prepare to make daily visits or phone calls to the vulnerable as forecasters say tonight’s temperatures will feel like a polar windchill.
The weekend will bring slightly milder temperatures, but this will be short lived.
Another freeze will take over the country from Monday, as record low temperatures are expected to hit the nation.
December could be the coldest since 2010’s Big Freeze seven years ago, with temperatures of -12C across the UK, said The Weather Company.
Gritters and emergency crews are also expected to face a challenging winter – making it one of the biggest tests of resources since 2012 to 2013.
Thermal-imaging helicopters, ‘ghost trains’ and 2,000 gritters will tackle the freeze.
PA The Weather Outlook forecaster Brian Gaze said: “The coming weeks look like the biggest challenge for Britain’s winter resources since winter 2012-13.”
“Network Rail will use a thermal-imaging helicopter and 34 de-icing trains to keep tracks clear, while rail firms run empty ‘ghost trains’ at night to clear snow and ice.
A Network Rail spokesperson said: “Our thermal-imaging helicopter carries out aerial inspections to guide engineers to points heaters which aren’t working effectively.
“Train companies will run empty trains overnight to help keep tracks clear of snow.”
PA There will be 2,000 gritters on standby and Highways England has readied its fleet of 500 gritting lorries and 1,300 drivers.
Highways England winter manager Sujad Hussain, said: “Our teams will work around the clock during severe weather to keep traffic moving.”
Councils have also stockpiled 1.5million tonnes of salt.
Heathrow Airport put 500 snow-clearing staff and 185 snowploughs on duty.
Gatwick Airport has 98 snow-ploughs and blowers ready.
Met Office Steven Keates said: “Thursday could see falling snow in London,
although unlikely to settle, with a couple of centimetres in showers in East Anglia and East Midlands.
“The North-East has 20cm of snow shown on forecast models for the North York Moors, although 10cm lower down with more on the tops is more conceivable.
“Scotland could see low level snow in the East, with 10-20cm on hills in the West and North.
PA “The coldest air of the year is coming in. Thursday morning or Thursday night will probably beat the -6.3C coldest temperature of the season.
“Down to -7C could be seen on Thursday morning in northern England or Scotland, and on Thursday night in Scotland, with -10C shown on forecast models for Scottish mountains.
“Ice risks are due on Thursday night and into Friday in areas which had showers.
“It turns briefly milder from Saturday for a few days, then a cold front sweeps south, with the weather then stuck in a rut and staying colder than average across December, up to Christmas.
Cambridge walker along the banks of the River Cam in Cambridge “After mid-December might have brief milder interludes, but maybe only for the South, with colder weather returning again after a few days.”
Dr Thomas Waite, of Public Health England’s Extreme Events team, said: “As the weather is going to get colder everywhere in the coming days, this is a really good time to check on those who may be at-risk.
“People with diseases such as heart and lung conditions, older people and young children can feel the ill-effects of cold weather more than the rest of us.
“To stay well this winter we all need to play a part. Is there someone you know who could be at risk when the weather gets cold? Could you help them out by fetching shopping or prescriptions?
“When the colder weather arrives there are several things we can do to keep well, wear several thin layers instead of fewer thicker ones, keep parts of the home you’re using heated to at least 18C and keep a careful eye on the weather forecasts.”
What’s our odds of a white Christmas?
Bookmakers Betfair cut white Christmas odds to 5/2 in London, 9/4 in Manchester and 2/1 in Glasgow.
Ladbrokes cut odds on winter being the coldest ever – beating 1962-63’s -0.18C average temperature – to 5/2.