Snow and icy temperatures are expected to return across most of the country on Thursday, after a brief respite that has seen a shopping boom and pillar boxes closed because of the sheer quantity of hastily-posted Christmas cards.
The sense of a limited reprieve was confirmed this morning by the Met Office, which said that the thaw will end abruptly as prevailing winds veer and allow an Arctic front to move in again from Scandinavia.
Temperatures are expected to drop abruptly towards the levels of 10 days ago, with predicted lows of -10C (14F) in the most vulnerable areas along the eastern seaboard from Scotland to Kent.
Only the south-west has a chance of escaping the chill, which will follow a band of rain moving slowly south across the country on Wednesday night.
"It will be very cold and unsettled on Friday and through the weekend, with strong north-westerly winds bringing frequent snow showers to many places," said a Met Office spokeswoman. "Some significant accumulations are likely in places leading to some disruption, and with strong winds in places, there is a risk of drifting leading to temporary blizzard conditions."
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