Northern Ireland weather: Snow and blizzard conditions loom as big freeze forecast
Northern Ireland is set be plunged into an Arctic freeze next week, with sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall predicted to last until the end of the month.
Forecasters have warned that mercury levels will start plummeting later next week, leading to a shivering second half of the month - and what could turn out to be one of the coldest periods in this country for a number of years.
James Madden, forecaster with Exacta Weather, said the prolonged bitter weather was likely to stretch into February, with mercury levels at times dropping to double-negative figures.
He said: "There is likely to be some significant changes throughout the second half of January to some prolonged cold spells and a number of widespread snow events across large parts of Northern Ireland. It may even arrive a little earlier than mid-month.
"This will be due to a sudden stratospheric warming event within this period and other intrinsic factors, such as the Troposphere [lowest portion of the Earth's atmosphere] and ocean circulation patterns, which will split the Polar Vortex into what we think will become a favourable position for some prolonged periods of cold and heavy snow throughout a large part of the remaining winter period.
"This will bring the risk for some potentially significant snowfall and blizzards within this period."
Mr Madden warned householders across Northern Ireland to prepare for the prolonged cold snap to arrive as early as next week.
He added: "February and into spring may also not escape the extension of these waves of cold and widespread snow at times."
Northern Ireland was thrown into chaos during the thaw that followed the big freeze of December 2010, when the temperature in Castlederg plummeted to a record low of -18.7C.
Thousands were left without water following what was described as the worst snow in Northern Ireland in 25 years. As temperatures rose, burst pipes drained reservoirs, forcing NI Water to turn off the tap to 80 locations.
Some people were left without water for 11 days. Local councils stepped in, working to supply water and offer free showers to people without a mains supply, and the Scottish government donated 160,000 litres of bottled water.