Drivers told to beware treacherous roads as snow turns to pack ice
Northern Ireland turned white yesterday as winter closed in with a vengeance.
And we're likely to be locked in the deep freeze for days to come, weather experts warn, with the north and west of the region set to be hardest hit.
The Met Office has issued a yellow warning for snow and ice across Northern Ireland.
The warning will remain in force until noon today.
Temperatures are set to plunge below freezing, and some areas of high ground could see as much as 4in-6in (10cm-15cm) of snow, while the average temperature across Northern Ireland will be freezing point: 0C (32F).
The Met Office's chief forecaster said: "A cold and unstable north-westerly airflow will bring frequent showers to many north-western parts of the UK, these turning to sleet and snow quite widely.
"Snow accumulations, with ice an additional hazard, could cause some disruption to travel."
A brief thaw late yesterday led to slush on many roads - and the subsequent plummeting temperatures will have led to those roads refreezing overnight, creating highly dangerous driving conditions.
Main roads across Northern Ireland are being gritted, and Transport NI has urged drivers to exercise caution, especially when driving on untreated roads.
The PSNI has also asked all motorists to drive with care.
In Draperstown, 150 people had to trudge through snow to fill containers with water, after their supply was cut off.
Resourceful souls turned the chill to their advantage by melting snow to wash themselves - and flush their loos. NI Water are working to restore normal supply.
But there was relief for 15,000 electricity consumers, as NIE engineers restored power to their homes. They had been left in the dark in the aftermath of Storm Rachel, which caused debris and fallen trees to disrupt the electricity network.
As the sleet and show closed in, Translink reported no disruption to train services, but anyone planning a bus journey should check ahead to ensure their service they need is operational.
The worsening weather brought tragedy earlier this week when a man was killed after storms blew a tree onto his catering van in Lisburn. In Belfast, a woman in her 70s was injured when a pallet was sent hurtling through the air outside Connswater shopping centre in east Belfast, striking her on the head.
She had been with her three-year-old granddaughter and the child's mother at the time.
All three were treated in A&E at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Also in Belfast, two girls who were on their way to school were treated by ambulance crews after being blown off their feet into the side of a bus in Belfast city centre near the Albert Clock landmark.
At the Maze, a marquee at an agricultural event was flattened by the gusts, which also halted a number of ferry services.
Met Office spokeswoman Laura Young said that while it was "colder than average", and there were more snow and ice warnings than last year, the current weather was "typical British winter weather".
- The latest bus service updates can be viewed on the Translink website at http://www.translink.co.uk/
UK set to shiver with temperatures plunging as low as -10C
Temperatures across the rest of the UK are set to plunge to as low as -10C over the weekend, with the Met Office issuing severe weather alerts across large swathes of the country.
Social and healthcare services are being put on high alert, as the UK faces no let-up in the wintry weather which has already claimed one life and caused chaos on roads and rail lines.
Yorkshire and Humber, the north-east and the north-west of Britain are subject to a level-three amber alert, the second highest, while the West Midlands, the East Midlands and the east of England are under a lesser, yellow warning. The severe weather alerts will remain in place until Tuesday, with temperatures expected to reach as low as -10C in the Scottish Highlands and -8C in the Lake District and Pennines tonight. The areas set to be worst affected are those where snow already lies on the ground, she added.
Public Health England has urged people to help vulnerable family and friends keep warm.
Ireland also got another blast of winter last night as a band of hail, sleet and snow crossed the country ahead of more bitterly cold weather this weekend.
Thunderstorms caused more power cuts to Co Donegal as Storm Rachel was replaced by Arctic air. Met Eireann issued a new yellow weather warning for the country.