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Another Beast from the East snowstorm and extremely cold temperatures could hit the UK within days, scientists have warned.
Experts have predicted that a sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) event over the North Pole will take place this week, increasing the odds of freezing cold and snow over the next week or two.
This SSW is "potentially the most dangerous kind", researchers warned.
It is the same weather phenomenon that triggered the 2018 Beast from the East, which dumped 50C (20ins) of snow, brought a -15C freeze and was blamed for almost 20 deaths.
The new prediction came as the UK shivered through its coldest night for almost two years as the temperature dropped to -12C in Scotland, and a dusting of snow fell in places such as Sussex, Kent, Surrey, the Cotswolds, Warwickshire, Greater Manchester and County Durham.
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Wednesday morning commuters faced flurries on the highest parts of the M25 and M26, said the Met Office.
Ice warnings were in place for parts of northern England and southern Scotlanduntil 11am.
A temperature of -12.3C overnight in Loch Glascarnoch made it the coldest night since February 3, 2019, said forecasters.
The week will stay cold across the UK and snowy in places.
The Beast from the East in 2018 brought blizzards and freezing cold
(Image: Getty Images)
Snow covers a street in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, on Wednesday morning
An ice warning will be in place for eastern parts of England from 4pm on Wednesday to 10am on Thursday. A snow warning will cover all of Northern Ireland on Thursday morning.
Scientists at the Universities of Bristol, Exeter and Bath have warned that the UK could face much more extreme and treacherous conditions before the end of January.
They have predicted an imminent stratospheric warming over the North Pole, which could have severe consequences for the jet stream and weather in the UK.
Their weather forecasting models are predicting with increasing confidence that a SSW will take place this week, the Times reported.
Dr Richard Hall, lead author of the study, said there was an increased chance of extreme cold and snow over the next week or two.
He said: "Today's SSW is potentially the most dangerous kind."
The study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.
Scientists analysed 40 SSW events over the past 60 years to come up with their January prediction.
County Durham was blanketed by snow on Wednesday morning
A dusting of snow fell overnight in Sevenoaks in Kent
Sudden stratospheric warmings occur up to 30 miles above Earth and can bring very cold weather, which can trigger massive snowstorms.
In 2018, the Beast from the East brought freezing cold from Siberia to Britain, causing widespread chaos as snowstorms left drivers stranded on roads for hours, schools were shut and flights were grounded.
Almost 20 deaths were attributed to the cold and snowy conditions.
The Beast from the East hit about two weeks after the sudden stratospheric warming event.
Sudden stratospheric warming triggered the 2018 Beast from the East
(Image: Getty Images)
The Met Office has said it is tracking the SSW and another weather event which are "fighting for influence over the UK" and could bring more low temperatures in the coming weeks.
Meteorologists have observed a sudden stratospheric warming is under way.
The agency is also tracking a La Nina in the Pacific, which could bring wet and stormy weather as it increases the UK's chances of westerly winds.
Met Office spokeswoman Nicola Maxey said earlier: "You've got the two events happening at the same time so they vie against each other in a sense.
The 2018 Beast from the East caused widespread chaos
(Image: Getty Images)
"They're sort of fighting for influence over the UK, we're a very small dot in the middle of the ocean."
She added that the warming in the stratosphere takes at least 10 days to move down into our atmosphere.
Ms Maxey added: "The feeling at the moment is that we may see some colder weather towards the end of January into February, but probably the sort of weather that we're seeing at the moment, as opposed to what is popularly perceived as a Beast from the East.
"There's still a lot to play for, we're keeping an eye on the situation, the experts are working on how that might influence our weather."
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It came as forecasters predicted that the cold spell affecting much of the UK is due to continue, with temperatures expected to remain slightly below average into next week.
Temperatures will stay in single digits across the UK in the coming days, with rain, sleet and snow expected in parts.
Ms Maxey said: "This cold spell will last certainly this week and into next week, although we should see a little bit of recovering temperatures as we start next week.
"By the time we get to Friday, we're starting to see the chance that things might warm up a bit, but we're still looking at 3C or 4C for London, with isolated areas perhaps seeing 6C."
Leeds will see temperatures of around 4C, while parts of Scotland will hover around freezing in the daytime.
Ms Maxey added: "Temperatures are a little bit below average for January. I think by the time we get to mid-month we're probably going to see those temperatures move closer to the average for this kind of year."
Persistent rain is expected in the South East.
Some parts of the UK may also see sleet and snow, though it will largely stay on higher ground.
Ms Maxey said: "We may see the odd flurry down to lower levels, particularly in the North East, maybe the North West depending on what day you're looking at, but certainly any snow to lower levels will be quite transient really and not last very long.
She added that the South East could also see some snow on Thursday and Friday, but "if it happens, it won't stay around for long".
"A half a degree difference in temperature can make the difference between snow and rain, so snow is one of those things that's difficult to be prescriptive about too far out."
New weather warnings
The Met Office issued two new severe winter weather warnings on Wednesday morning.
Met Office five-day weather forecast
Many central and north-western parts dry with sunny spells, whilst further wintry showers affect the east.
Rain, sleet and snow reaching north-west Scotland later.
Wintry showers east and south-east.
Clear spells elsewhere with frost, severe across central parts.
Rain, sleet and snow moving south-east across Scotland and Northern Ireland, turning icy in places.
Band of rain, sleet and inland snow moving south across Northern Ireland, Scotland and northern England through the day, with wintry showers following.
Otherwise dry and cold with sunny spells.
Friday to Sunday
Outbreaks of rain, sleet and snow across central areas.
Turning changeable and less cold in the north over the weekend but largely dry and cold in the south.