They are expecting a huge spike of activity for its home service engineers;
predicting 20,000 call-outs to UK homes this weekend, 33 per cent more than
the weekend before and up 54 per cent on the relatively mild first weekend
of the year.

The Met Office has issued amber warnings for East Midlands, East of England,
London & South East England, North West England, Northern Ireland, South
West England, Wales, West Midlands.

South Wales is on red alert – where the dangers even apply to the fit and
healthy – and they could see up to 12 inches of snow matched by chilling
30mph winds, the Met Office said.

The rest of the country is on yellow alert – warning that they should prepared
– and areas can expect up to two inches of snow.

Spokeswoman Alexa Jones said: “From about 3am the snow will start moving into
South West and West Wales.

“Throughout the day that will move eastwards and most places will see snow by

Overnight tonight for most of the country the temperatures will hover around
zero and drop in the morning to around minus one or two degrees.

The snow will reach London and the South East by 9am before it continues to
move slowly north and east across the country, it is predicted.

London will be battered by gusts of wind of up to 23mph and the snow showers
are likely to linger until around 6pm on Saturday – covering the capital for
more than 30 hours, Ms Jones said.

The weather warnings came as police said a pensioner who was found dead in the
street near his home may have collapsed while clearing snow from his

Graham Clark, who was in his 70s, was discovered with serious head injuries in
the village of Buxhall in Suffolk on Tuesday afternoon.

The Department of Health is now on amber alert level three – the highest alert
level that has ever been reached in this country.

They plan to alert all staff and ensure that the vulnerable are contacted and
looked after, with daily visits and phone call recommended to “high-risk
individuals” who live alone.

Across the country councils are also preparing themselves for the big freeze.

Surrey County Council has enlisted 50 farmers with ploughs to support its
existing highways teams and they have joined forces with the Salvation Army
and the South East 4×4 club, whose 90 volunteers will use their vehicles to
help the council reach vulnerable people in critical need of social care and
health visits during the bad weather.

Mr Bateman said: “We have our full team of 10,000 engineers working flat out
to fix Britain’s boilers and keep our customers’ homes warm. There is also a
lot people can do themselves to prepare their homes, heating, boilers, and
drains and help them work well through freezing weather.”

He added: “People should also be extra vigilant and look out for their
neighbours in this weather. Our engineers always go beyond the call of duty,
I have been told about them trudging through the snow with their tool bags
over their shoulders and this weekend will be no different.”

The London Borough of Merton has been installing free temperature sensors in
the homes of the vulnerable which will trigger an alarm at a monitoring
centre if the temperature drops below 16C and in Lincolnshire official are
offering free salt if volunteers clear snow and ice.

The Highways Agency has issued an amber alert and has placed ploughs and snow
blowers on stand-by.

Steve Crosthwaite, head of the agency’s National Traffic Operations Centre,
urged drivers to allow more time for morning travel.

“During periods of severe weather we also suggest people consider whether
their journey is essential,” he added.

“They may want to delay their travel until conditions improve and to
allow our winter fleet the chance to treat the roads.”

London Fire Brigade urged caution during the “Arctic blast”.

Its warning follows two serious fires this week caused by householders taking
extreme measures to keep warm.

Yesterday, fire crews were called to rescue an elderly man from a serious
blaze in Wembley, north London, which is believed to have been caused by a
halogen heater being placed too close to flammable items.

Last week, firefighters battled flames in Fulham, west London, after an
electric blanket was left on for the weekend.

And the breakdown services, who recieved 27,500 calls on Wednesday with 75 per
cent of those from stricken motorists in East Anglia, are expecting tomorrow
to be their busiest day ever.

The AA will have 3,000 breakdown vehicles on patrol with the service stretched
to its maximum capacity and a fleet of 40 4×4 RAC vehicles are set to be
redeployed to the most at risk areas, including the Midlands and Wales.

RAC spokesman Simon Williams said: “This is as busy as it gets. We’re
urging people not to travel on Friday. If they can work from home that is
definitely the best option. We had 10,000 callouts on Wednesday, which is
2,500 more than a normal winter’s Wednesday.

“Lots of people were having problems with frozen locks, frozen brakes,
frozen windows, battery problems and burnt clutches.

“Even though we are expecting a lot of people to avoid travelling on
Friday we predict we will have at least 10,000 callouts We are working flat
out at the moment, but this is the calm before the snow storm.

“If people are going to travel they need to be well prepared. That means
packing food and drink, a shovel, warm clothing and making sure their mobile
phones are fully charged in case they break down.

“An old piece of carpet can also be useful in the event you get stuck in
the snow. It can give you some traction.”

Gavin Hill-Smith, an AA spokesman, said: “It is going to be a very busy
day. It’s not just the snow. Cars struggle to function in these cold

“We’ve had a spate of accidents with people driving too close to each
other or going to fast for the icy conditions.

“We have a lot of snow coming in from the early hours tomorrow and it
will have a big impact on the morning rush hour.

“If you are in an area that is going to be badly affected our advice is
not to venture out unless it is absolutely essential.”

At Heathrow Airport 130 snow clearing vehicles will be out in force along with
over 500 workers to ensure the runways are clear and delays are kept to a

Jan Singleton, a Heathrow spokeswoman, said: “The latest forecast is for
snowfall at Heathrow through most of Friday. Passengers should allow extra
time for their journeys and check with their airline before travelling to
the airport.”

If 10cm of snow falls on the airport then it will weigh 60,000 tonnes and will
need 4,000 lorry loads to clear.

Since winter 2010 the airport has spent 36 million pounds on it’s winter
resilience programme.

Councillor Peter Box, chairman of the Local Government Association’s economy
and transport board, said local councils were fully prepared for the cold
weather over the coming days.

He said: “There’s hundreds of thousands of tonnes of salt in council
depots. They’ve got new GPS-tracked gritters which use salt more
effectively, the latest technology in snow ploughs and special quad-bikes
and 4x4s to grit narrow and hilly roads.

“They will be receiving up-to-the minute reports from weather experts and
their gritting teams are on standby around-the-clock.

“Highways, street-cleaning and park staff will also be drafted in to help
clear snow and ice around places like shops, schools and sheltered

“Keeping the country moving is a community effort. Councils will be
treating as many roads as they can and have also installed and filled
thousands of extra grit bins for people living in side streets, villages and
housing estates.

“Many councils also have gritter Twitter feeds and Facebook pages
detailing the latest developments.”

But Cllr David Rogers, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s
Community Wellbeing Board, warned: “It takes more than grit to help the
country’s most vulnerable people cope with the freezing temperatures and
heavy snow. Highways staff and street-cleaners are being drafted in to help
local authorities across the country deliver hot meals, collect
prescriptions and help carry out basic maintenance such as defrosting pipes.

“But council staff can’t be everywhere. We need residents to work with us, be
our eyes and ears and help us get the support to where it’s most needed.

“Take note of things like milk bottles being left outside someone’s house,
newspapers stuck in the letterbox or curtains being drawn all day. Any
unusual activity could be an early warning sign that something’s wrong and
ultimately help save lives.”

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