UK snow: the 'beast from the east'

Britain is braced for the “beast from the east” – an icy wind from Scandinavia that will blast the country with severe cold weather and snow.

The sun rises over Tynemouth beach after a covering of snowOwen Humphreys,PA Wire

The bitter weather pattern is set to hit within days, risking disruption and putting vulnerable patients at risk.  

South-east Scotland and the north-east of England are expected to be the first to bear the brunt of the beast from the east.

The Met Office has issued a cold weather alert for Monday and Tuesday, warning of a 90% chance of severe weather, icy conditions and heavy snow in parts of England.

An east or north-easterly flow at times will bring snow showers, particularly to the east of England, these sometimes heavy, and leading to locally significant accumulations.

“At present this spell of very cold weather looks set to last through much of next week and it is likely this alert will need to be extended,” said the Met Office on its website.

And that means the risk of further snow showers across more of the country as next week progresses.

Forecasters also predict it will get colder through the week, with the daytime temperature reaching between 1C and 4C by Thursday.

Overnight frosts will continue throughout next week, with the mercury plunging to -4 in urban areas and potentially as low as -8C in the countryside.

The general outlook for Friday is that it will be windy and cold, with wintry showers, mainly in the east.

Tonight will be cold with icy stretches, frost and a risk of freezing fog patches.

The public has also been urged to take extra care because of the risk of icy stretches developing on untreated surfaces as a result of a widespread frost tonight and into Saturday morning. 

The warning covers Scotland, the north-east of England and Yorkshire.

It will be windy on Saturday, with outbreaks of rain in the north-west of the UK. There could be some hill snow initially.

It will be drier in the south and east, with some sunshine – but it will stay chilly.

The forecast for Sunday is cloudy with light rain, with conditions turning colder and brighter from the north.

Why is it so cold?

A clue to the cold snap could be between six and 31 miles up in the atmosphere, says the Met Office.

Observation systems have picked up a minor “sudden stratospheric warming” in the past few days – suggesting it may have an impact on the UK.

These events happen when the usual westerly winds in the stratosphere are disrupted, break down and even reverse. 

This can then eventually reduce westerly winds at lower levels in the atmosphere. For the UK during winter, it means disruption to the winds that usually bring mild air from the Atlantic.

Such changes can then allow easterly winds bringing in cold air from the continent to take hold.