WEATHER experts have warned up to four inches of snow could fall on Edinburgh and the Lothians this weekend – sparking travel misery for thousands.
The severe flurry is expected to be accompanied by plunging “ice box” temperatures and further snowfalls throughout the week.
An army of snowploughs are on alert amid fears the “weather event” could match the 2009/10 winter white-out which brought the region, and the rest of Scotland, to its knees.
Met Office forecaster Sarah Holland said all the conditions are right for the Big Freeze to be repeated.
She said: “The public should not be surprised to see snow flurries from Saturday afternoon and be aware of the risk of disruption to travel.
“On Tuesday and Wednesday, wintry showers are expected to be most frequent towards the East, with snow likely to low levels, giving the risk of significant accumulations.
“It is important people keep up to date with forecasts.”
With the cold snap expected to last until the start of February, gritting lorries are digging into a record 700,000-tonne salt stockpile.
Motorists have also been urged to prepare for the expected first bite of winter with Scotland’s Transport Minister Keith Brown saying: “I’m confident we’ll keep Scotland moving.”
Traffic Scotland also warned drivers to “be aware of the potential for localised disruption to travel”.
The sudden blast is being caused by freezing air from the East colliding with moist Atlantic air. The weather pattern is identical to the one which caused the 2009/10 winter flurries, then the coldest winter on record for 31 years.
James Madden, long-range forecaster for ExactaWeather, said people should wrap up warm. He said: “The next few weeks and into the start of February is likely to remain very cold in Edinburgh, bringing with it some quite severe frosts in the evenings. It is likely that there will be frequent snow showers and a number of major snow events will also become possible throughout this period. There will be some especially heavy falls across higher ground and snow showers to lower levels at times.
“This will lead to lying snow and some lasting accumulations, making travelling conditions hazardous.”
The AA and The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) urged drivers to take precautions.
Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at RoSPA, said: “The most important thing is to be prepared. Make sure your vehicle is in good working condition and add enough time for a journey so you are less likely to rush.
“In extreme conditions, only make a journey if it is absolutely necessary. Don’t drive as normal on snow or ice – reduce your speed to avoid skidding. Remember to increase stopping distances massively as you may need up to ten times the normal distance when braking on icy roads.”
Andy Smith, of the AA, said: “Keep the things you need to hand, for example, a road atlas in case of unexpected diversions and food like cereal bars or nuts and a warm drink.”
An Edinburgh City Council spokesperson said: “We have 19,000 tonnes of salt in stock and the gritters have been out since yesterday afternoon. As always, we have staff on standby so that we can react accordingly.”
RoSPA’s tips for driving in extreme weather conditions can be found at http://www.rospa.com/wintersafety/default.aspx.