snowA blanket of snow expected to cover the UK on Friday, with up to 30cm falling on higher ground

Hundreds of schools have been closed and transport disrupted as a band of heavy snow affects most of the UK.

Cardiff, Bristol and Southampton airports are closed and part of the M4 is shut in Wales. Train companies have put revised timetables in place.

A rare red Met Office warning for snow is in place for parts of Wales, meaning severe disruption is likely.

There is an amber warning for Northern Ireland and most of England, with snow also due in parts of Scotland.

The Met Office’s red warning for snow, which is unusual and means all non-essential travel should be avoided, applies to the southeastern side of the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains until 21:00 GMT on Friday.

Red warning areas could see up to 30cm of snow and blizzards.

Amber severe weather warnings, which mean be prepared for disruption and only travel if necessary, are also in place until at least 21:00 GMT across large parts of central, western and southern England and Wales, as well as Northern Ireland.

There have been widespread school closures including hundreds in Wales, over 200 in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and 225 in Norfolk, while 130 schools are closed across Birmingham and the Black Country.

In other developments:

  • Roads across many parts of Wales are described as hazardous and the M4 has been closed in both directions between junctions 36 and 37, near Bridgend. The Rhigos, Bwlch and Maerdy mountain roads closed at 22:00 GMT on Thursday
  • London is braced for disruption during the morning rush hour, with contingency Tube service plans in place
  • British Airways offered those travelling on Friday and over the weekend the chance to change their flights free of charge to a later date
  • First Capital Connect ran empty “ghost trains” through the night to keep the tracks as clear of snow as possible on the Great Northern route out of Peterborough, Cambridge and King’s Lynn and in south London
  • Greater Anglia Trains said there would be some early morning cancellations to its London Liverpool Street services, and Southern Railways said it planned to operate a “less frequent service” on routes between London and the south coast
  • National Rail Enquiries reported some Eurostar journeys had been cancelled between London and Brussels
  • The East Coast train company has lifted ticket restrictions for all journeys on its trains which arrive in, or depart from, King’s Cross station in London after 10:00 GMT on Friday
  • South West Trains is among the travel companies to put contingency plans in place. It has announced changes to its services on Friday, including a revised timetable on a number of routes
  • A number of A-roads are already closed in both directions due to ice and snow, as the BBC travel centre reports

Blizzards and strong winds are set to make driving conditions difficult on the roads, and motorists are being warned that heavy snow will arrive in many areas before the morning rush-hour.

Driving has been described as “tricky” on the M5 in Somerset, particularly around Bridgwater and Burnham, with reports of one lane being impassable in some places.

BBC Weather said Northern Ireland would experience rain early on Friday, which would turn to snow during the course of the day, with between 10cm and 15cm expected in most areas and about 20cm over hills.

BBC weather forecaster Mike Silverstone said much of England and Wales would experience between 5cm and 15cm of snow on Friday, whereas Northern Ireland could see up to 20cm by Saturday morning.

The snow is expected to ease off later on Friday, although it is set to remain in eastern areas, forecasters said.

BBC Weather added it was likely to stay very cold over the weekend, with snow likely to be confined to Scotland, north-eastern England and Northern Ireland on Saturday.

The Highways Agency has put road ploughs and snow blowers on stand-by to clear major routes.

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

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

Passengers travelling to Heathrow and London City airports have been advised to check the status of their flight before travelling to the airport.

For more information on the weather and transport situation in your area, visit the BBC Weather website and BBC Travel News.

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UK forecast for 18/01/2013

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