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Weather: Northern Ireland ablaze with colours of spring but icy blast to bring sleet and snow

By David Young

Don't put the woolies away yet, Northern Ireland is forecast to have a chilly weekend as wintry weather moves in from the north Atlantic.

And the cold is expected to continue with a possibility of sleet next week.

The Met Office has warned that the province will be hit by widespread frosts this weekend with temperatures to plummet as low as five degrees in Belfast, and even colder in rural areas.

Forecasters said the current nippy conditions are set to continue into next week with central and northern parts of the UK likely to experience frost tomorrow night and on Sunday morning, with widespread frost expected in the south on Sunday night.

Meteorologist Emma Sharples said it looked like a good time for garden-lovers to turn up the heating in the greenhouse and protect early blossoms from being nipped in the bud.

Things are going to get even chillier next week, she warned, as much colder conditions are expected to bring wintry conditions to hills and more frost in places with clear skies.

There could even be some sleet and hail, she said.

"Night-time temperatures could drop to as low as five degrees in Belfast, and a few degrees lower than that in rural areas. There will be quite a noticeable drop in temperatures," Emma told the Belfast Telegraph.

As for hail, "You couldn't rule it out," said Emma.

"It will be showery next week, and there is colder air behind that rain. So we could well see wintry precipitation - rain, sleet and hail."

April frosts are not unusual but the cold weather comes after the fifth warmest March since records began in 1910, which could have set plants off to an erratic start of the gardening season, the Met Office warned.

The Royal Horticultural Society's chief horticultural adviser Guy Barter said: "Frosty weather at this time of year is always a worry for gardeners.

"Fruit blossom in particular is vulnerable to damage.

"There is not much that can be done to protect apples, plums and other tree fruits but strawberries can be covered with cloches, curtains or a fleece at night, although care must be taken to allow bees to pollinate during the day.

"Happily, soft fruit - such as currants and gooseberries - are leafy now and the foliage shelters the flowers from frost," according to the gardening expert.

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