Britain is bracing itself for a freezing snap - with a distinct chance of snow over the next few weeks. The latest warnings from the Met Office suggest an Arctic blast is about to batter Britain. New weather maps reveal we're in for two months of snap freezes and snow, lasting until the end of February.

The freezing weather is likely because of two separate weather systems hitting the UK simultaneously over the coming weeks. North-westerly winds, combined with sudden cold snaps, are increasing the likelihood of snow. Forecasters are basing their warnings on the weather at the edge of the Arctic Ocean.

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Snow predictions

The patterns suggest snow will be "quite frequent" in the north of the UK. The good news is that due to alternating cold and mild spells, the lying snow may be short-lived. However, northern parts of the country, especially Scotland, look set to suffer the worst of the snow showers. Even the south of England, which is traditionally warmer, won't escape the winter conditions.

Current weather fronts suggest the south coast will also fall victim to some cold snaps early in 2020. The Met Office hasn't ruled out snow in southern England, so it's warning people to brace themselves for the anticipated winter flurry.

By the middle of December, yellow weather warnings were already in place for parts of Britain, due to heavy rain, flooding and winds of up to 70mph. As if this isn't enough, the prospect of snow for January and February has most of us longing for the spring and hoping the winter soon passes.

Meteorologists have studied past weather conditions for this time of year, going back as far as 1852, to look for patterns of comparable weather. They believe February could be the coldest month of this winter. Luckily, the UK and Ireland will be unlikely to suffer the prolonged sub-zero temperatures threatening to hit mainland Europe.

Extremely cold weather will get very close to the UK, but will usually be rebuffed by the Atlantic before it can "bed in" on Britain's shores.

Average UK weather

On average, based on statistics collected between 1981 and 2010, the UK gets 23.7 days of snowfall or sleet each year. There are differences between high and low ground, with more snow on higher ground, where the temperature is much colder.

For example, in Scotland, snow or sleet falls on 38 days a year on average. The place that gets the most snow in the UK is the Cairngorms, where an average 76.2 days of snow or sleet are experienced. Cornwall is always least likely to get snow - the average snowfall there is only 7.4 days per year.

Snow actually settles on the ground in the UK for an average of 15.6 days a year. Again, the figure is higher in Scotland, where there is lying snow for 26.2 days each year, mostly in mountainous areas.

While most of the snowfall occurs between December and February, there have been a few freak snowstorms, such as a memorable snow shower across the UK on 2nd June 1975, which caused several cricket matches to be abandoned!

Worst winters

In 1963, the UK suffered one of its worst winters since records began, with temperatures so low that even the sea froze over! It was recorded as the coldest winter since 1740. People across the country experienced snow drifts, blizzards, blocks of ice and temperatures plummeting to -20°C.

In 1947, the UK recorded its snowiest winter. Between 22nd January and 17th March, there was snow every day somewhere in the UK! Roads were blocked up and down the country and rail services were unable to operate, leading to widespread disruption of people's day-to-day lives.

Some power stations had to shut down, leading to electricity shortages. Domestic electricity was restricted to 19 hours a day and some industrial supplies were cut off altogether, so factories ground to a halt. Electricity shortages led to radio broadcasts being limited, TV services being suspended and magazines and newspapers either reducing in size, or stopping publishing altogether.

Coming so soon after the austerity of the Second World War, public morale was at an all-time low and it became a true "winter of discontent". Already suffering in sub-zero temperatures, the public turned on the government, blaming Emanuel Shinwell, the Minister of Fuel and Power. He had to be placed under police guard after receiving threats from disgruntled residents. The big freeze of 1947 lasted until mid-March.

The most disastrous avalanche in Britain since records began happened in the 19th century. In 1836, heavy snowfall led to a massive avalanche on 27th December in Lewes, East Sussex. A number of houses were destroyed and eight people died due to the extreme weather conditions.

Moving the snow

In order to get Britain moving again when heavy snowfall has blocked roads, a snowplough is usually used. It not only ploughs the snow out of the way, it also grits the roads to prevent ice from forming. Snow ploughs are operated by hydraulics and have a unique motion that makes it easier to shift the snow, instead of manual methods, such as struggling with a large shovel.

Snow ploughs ranging from 6ft to 9ft wide can even be mounted on a vehicle, enabling a larger vehicle to move more snow out of the way. A three-quarter-ton truck, or larger lorry, can have the wider blades mounted on the front.

There are also purpose-built snow ploughs, commonly used by local authorities after heavy snowfall. The blades have two main shapes: V-shaped or straight. The V-shaped blades push the snow away to both sides of the vehicle simultaneously. Straight blades are used parallel to the front of the vehicle and can be turned at an angle to push the snow off to one side.

Some of the V-shaped blades can be turned upside-down to create a scoop that lifts and moves the snow. The blades are normally made of steel, which is powder-coated or painted to prevent corrosion.

Hydraulic power

The blades are usually controlled using a hydraulic cable reel - an electric cable reel can be used, but the hydraulic type is the most popular. The hydraulic system is powered either directly off the engine using an engine-mounted belt, or by a pump run off the truck's electrical system.

Hydraulics must be able to work in very cold conditions all over the world and not just in the winter snow we experience in the UK. Large areas of Canada, Russia, the US and China are seriously cold. Hydraulic systems routinely operate, even in extreme cold, which is why hydraulic snow ploughs are so widely used.

The rubber blends in typical hydraulic hoses can be used in temperatures as low as –40°C, while multi-grade fluids are the solution for machinery that operates in different climates and temperatures. The pump's efficiency relies on achieving the perfect balance, with the hydraulic fluid being thin enough to start the pump easily (especially in freezing temperatures), yet thick enough to prevent loss of pressure or internal pump leakage.

Phoenix Hydraulics offers a full range of professional hydraulic solutions. Please contact us via our handy online form for further details.