THE Army was on standby last night as the heaviest snowfall for years threatened to plunge the country into a full-scale national emergency.
Up to 12ins of snow is expected today, causing major disruption to air, road and rail travel.
Forecasters warned the chaos is likely to last for a full three days as temperatures as low as -15C prevent the snow melting and strong winds whip it into drifts more than 6ft deep.
The Met Office yesterday took the rare step of issuing a red alert, the highest possible. Forecaster Robin Thwaytes said David Cameron had been warned of the severity of the threat.
“Nationwide snow is a very rare event and this is a very serious situation, “Red warnings are very rare and mobilise the Government to call in extra help from the Army if needed. The Cabinet Office is making the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister aware of the situation, liaising with the Welsh Assembly and deciding what action needs to be taken.
“The heaviest snow will fall for three to six hours, affecting the West on Friday morning and the East, including London, and the North in the afternoon. Thousands of schools are expected to close and motoring organisations last night warned drivers to stay off the roads.
The red alert is the first to be issued by the Met Office since December 2010, when the country was crippled by a big freeze.
Forecaster Charlie Powell said: “It is looking pretty bad. We are expecting up to a foot of snow in the worst-hit areas with 4ins more widespread.
“People should be prepared for severe disruption and consider whether any journey is essential before they make it.
“The red warning is the severest warning we offer.”
Weather Channel forecaster Leon Brown said: “Heavy snow is expected and 40mph gusts mean 2ft snowdrifts are likely at low levels in affected regions, with 4ft drifts on higher ground and up to 6ft in worst-affected parts.”
Jonathan Powell, forecaster for Vantage Weather Services, said freezing temperatures over the weekend would mean the snow would hang around.
He said -15C was possible in the North with -10C in the South.
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