The UK’s big freeze has claimed three lives in a road crash and caused major travel disruption across the south east.
Three people were killed in Lincolnshire when a Renault Clio and Scania lorry collided before dawn at 6.15am on the A15, police said.
In Essex, 17 cars were caught in a dramatic pile-up on the A249. Motorists on the M20 motorway in Kent were confronted with the sight of hundreds of stranded lorries, abandoned by drivers in driving snow.
Scores of schools around the UK have also been forced to close due to the adverse weather conditions.
More than 130 schools in Kent were among them, plus 14 in Essex, 10 in Surrey and 62 in East Sussex.
The heavy snow and freezing weather also led to the closure of schools in Norfolk, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Staffordshire.
In London, Trafalgar Square’s famous fountain froze over in the wintry conditions with icicles hanging off its mermaid statues as the blisteringly cold weather engulfed the capital.
Parts of the UK were said to feel colder than the arctic circle as the chilling weather front swept across the south of the country.
Amber warnings of snow have also been issued by the Met Office for north east, central and south eastern England on Tuesday, and eastern Scotland on Wednesday.
It warned of “heavy snow showers”, with a spokesman adding: “Travel delays on roads are likely, stranding some vehicles and passengers.
“Some delays and cancellations to rail and air travel are likely.
“There is a good chance that some rural communities could become cut off.
“Power cuts are likely and other services, such as mobile phones, may be affected.”
Following the fatal crash in Lincolnshire, lead investigator, Sergeant Helen Alcock, said; “Sadly three people have lost their lives this morning and several people have faced the shock of witnessesing or coming across the scene.
“I appeal to anyone who was driving in the area or saw the collision to contact me.
“I also ask if drivers can check their dash cams for footage of either of the vehicles involved. This will help our investigation.”
Meanwhile Londoners selflessly helped the less fortunate in a public campaign to buy hot drinks for the homeless, and by leaving hats, coats and scarves around the capital to keep warm.
In Brighton, swimmers were seen bravely entering the sea for a bracing swim from the snow-dusted stony beach.
Widespread snow is forecast, and the Met Office has issued yellow weather warnings for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
By the middle of the week, the majority of Britain is being warned of the potential for delays on the roads, trains and in the air.
A less severe yellow warning for snow is in place from Monday to Wednesday.
South Eastern urged passengers to finish their journeys before 6pm on Monday to avoid potential disruption.
Transport for London (TfL) warned passengers to check ahead of their journeys as disruptions were possible on Underground and Overground services due to the low temperatures forecast.
Train operator C2C also warned of limited services, advising trips after 9pm on Monday could be altered or cancelled.
Network Rail has lifted all restrictions on routes served by Greater Anglia after “heavy snow fall hit further south-east than predicted”.
Meliha Duymaz, route managing director for Network Rail Anglia, said: “I’d like to apologise to passengers who have had difficult journeys this morning and thank them for their patience.”
Rail bosses are working to restore as many services as possible for later today, with a full timetable expected to run on Wednesday.
Lows of minus 5C (23F) recorded over the weekend marked the lowest temperature in the week leading up to March 1, the first day of spring, since 1986.
The wind chill, which could see parts of the UK feeling as cold as minus 15C (5F), rivals the temperatures forecast for parts of northern Norway and Iceland.
The Met Office said that by the end of Wednesday, more than 20cm of snow may have accumulated in some parts of eastern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Met Office meteorologist Charlie Powell said: “The UK is on track for some really cold weather this week. It’s not going to be record-breaking, but it’ll be pretty exceptional – winds are going to make it feel minus 10C (14F) to minus 15C (5F) during the day.
“We will see the first signs of that tonight in the shape of snow showers working all the way down the east coast.
“That continues into Monday, with snow showers moving across the country during the day before reaching Wales.
“Winds are then going to strengthen and we could see some easterly gales through the eastern Channel and east Anglia by the middle of the week.
“That’s going to make it feel really cold, daytime temperatures on Wednesday and Thursday will be struggling to get above freezing for most of the country.”
He added: “By Thursday evening, there are growing signs there could be some significant snowfall across southern England.
“Unusually for Britain, the snow is going to be quite dry, so it will blow around and gather in drifts and we could see some blizzard conditions.
“We don’t want to scare people, but people should make sure they are prepared for some seriously cold weather.”