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February 11, 2021

Temperatures in Scotland plunged to their coldest level in more than 25 years on Wednesday night, nearly reaching -23C in Braemar, as the country experienced an “extreme freeze”.

The Met Office said the temperature in Braemar, the Aberdeenshire town famed for its Highland games, reached -22.9C (-9.2F), the coldest recorded in the UK since 1995 and the first time in a decade the mercury has dropped below -20C.

Malcolm MacIntyre, of Braemar mountain rescue team, told BBC Radio Scotland conditions were crisp and clear. “It is a beautiful morning actually and it is really cold,” he said. “The snow is squeaky, which always signifies that it is really cold.”

But in a strange twist, Scottish firefighters have warned there is an “extreme” risk of wildfires across the Hebridean islands and west coast, mirroring similar problems during the “beast from the east” period of severe winter weather three years ago.

Fire crews battled a wildfire on the island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides on Wednesday, with similar incidents recorded on Skye, Harris and Bernera.

Bruce Farquharson, an area commander for the Scottish fire and rescue service, said very dry winter vegetation along the western coastline made conditions ideal for wildfires, and urged people to be extremely cautious with naked flames. “There are currently vast areas of countryside all over the country that are tinder-dry and vulnerable, this provides all of the ingredients for fire to take hold and spread,” he said.

With deep snow carpeting much of Scotland, the Met Office has yellow weather warnings in place for the eastern coastline of the UK, from Shetland down the Channel, and the south-west of England and Wales.

ScotRail, the train operator, said the snow and ice was causing major disruption, particularly in the central belt. Services to and from Edinburgh Waverley and Glasgow Queen Street were the worst affected, it tweeted on Thursday.

Traffic Scotland warned motorists to remain at home unless their journey was essential. It reported accidents on major roads, and said two lanes on a higher altitude stretch of the M74 southbound through the Leadhills remained closed. Forecasters said the UK would experience scattered snow showers and some sunshine for the rest of Thursday. As the snow clears towards the east through the morning, it could become “quite pleasant outside with sunshine, although still bitterly cold” in western areas, according to the Met Office meteorologist Clare Nasir.

Cities such as Manchester and Carlisle may drop to -4C (24.8F) on Thursday, and York is expected to have lows of -6C (21.2F). Nine flood warnings, where flooding is likely, and 88 flood alerts, indicating that flooding is possible, have also been issued for locations across England by the Environment Agency. None were in place for the other UK nations on Wednesday night.

The forecast prompted responses from local councils in England, with residents warned to take extra care while the cold snap lasts. Nasir said that on Friday and over the weekend the weather was expected to turn “quite hazardous” as “an area of cloud and rain” coupled with extremely cold air brought further risk of snow and “perhaps even of freezing rain”.

The Centrepoint charity for homeless young people has urged the public to contact them or Streetlink on 0300 500 0914 if they see people living out in the cold. Charities have also advised offering anyone sleeping rough a hot drink, meal, blankets or clothing.

The NHS said that despite the tough conditions, many vaccination centres remained open, and any missed appointments would be rescheduled.

Several councils in England, including Rugby borough council and Southwark council in London, were forced to briefly suspend waste collection services due to the weather conditions.

Thurrock council in Essex said more than 100 workers, mostly from street cleaning and waste collection teams, were diverted from regular duties to help clear snow from footpaths and routes to medical centres.