NORTHERN Ireland is bracing itself for snowfall this afternoon following a relatively mild winter to date.
Rain, sleet and high winds are expected across the Province this morning before snow arrives in the afternoon. However rain, falling mostly as sleet, is expected to return to most areas by tomorrow.
The overall picture for tomorrow and Sunday is one of persistent spells of sleet with occasional strong winds taking temperatures in exposed areas as low as minus four.
In the rest of the UK the outlook is even more bleak with falls of snow up to 10 inches on higher ground being forecast.
Blizzards and strong winds are set to make conditions treacherous on Britain’s roads while motorists have been warned to expect heavy snow before the morning rush-hour.
There is an ‘amber’ severe weather warning for the East Midlands, the North and South West, Wales, the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber.
Laura Caldwell of MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said the extreme weather affecting the north and east will cover all of England by the end of today and even parts of southern Scotland.
She said conditions would be less dramatic in Northern Ireland but could still make driving difficult.
“The winds are quite strong and, with snow coming, it will be a pretty chilly day on Friday,” she said.
“Although the actual [air] temperate will be around 4C, it will feel much colder.
“The snow will ease later on Friday and overnight turn towards sleet and rain on Saturday.”
The Met Office advice to motorists during adverse weather is to avoid all non-essential journeys. If a journey has to be made then emergency food, clothing, blankets, etc, should be carried in the vehicle.
According to the Met Office in Northern Ireland, the band of snow affecting the Province will “slowly weaken through Saturday” although further accumulations are expected over central areas.
Further snow showers will then spread eastwards and ice will form tomorrow evening where there is snow cover, in many areas lasting into Sunday morning.
The Met Office have said: “The public are advised to be aware of the continued risk of disruption to transport during this spell of wintry weather.”
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has issued similar advice and also reminded drivers to make sure their windows are fully defrosted before setting off.
Some motorists in the Belfast area were caught out last week when opportunist thieves struck as cars left ticking over in driveways were stolen while unattended.
NI Water has called on householders to prepare for the worst by carrying out a few simple pipe checks to protect their property.
With the threat of burst pipes a possibility throughout the remaining winter months, the advice is to make sure pipes are well insulated, know where the stop valve is and have the telephone number of a plumber at hand in case of an emergency.
Transport Minister Danny Kennedy has said more than 300 staff and 130 gritting vehicles will be keeping the roads clear through the coldest spells.
Urging motorists to drive with caution, he said: “We are now half-way through the winter period and would expect further icy conditions and snow before the end of March.
“During spells of prolonged snow, all gritters will be fitted with snow ploughs and efforts directed to clearing snow from motorways and the trunk roads, before moving to other main roads and the busiest urban link roads.”