BRITAIN is facing the most savage winter in more than 50 years with months of heavy snowfall and bitter Arctic winds set to bring the country to a total standstill.
Sub-zero temperatures and violent snow storms could hit as soon as late October as a freak ocean cooling in the Atlantic threatens to trigger a historic, nationwide whiteout.
Emergency services have been warned to prepare for a repeat of the devastating 1962/63 winter which saw rivers and lakes freeze over across Britain.
The shock warnings have also sparked fears Britain could face fuel and food shortages as roads and transport networks grind to a halt.
Meteorologists and oceanographers warn plunging ocean temperatures in the Atlantic are at the root of the crisis.
Temperatures in the Gulf Stream - the warm ocean current which runs up the east coast of America - have plummeted over the past year.
The stream merges into the North Atlantic Drift which normally pushes warm water towards the west coast of the United Kingdom.
However a drastic reduction in speed and temperature of the current has left Britain without any buffer to a bitter Arctic influx.
Experts fear a repeat of the worst winter in history which saw temperatures plunge to near -20C in January 1963 causing the sea to freeze off the Kent coast.
That went on to be the coldest month since January 1814, with an average temperature of −2.1C.
James Madden, forecaster for Exacta Weather, said the Gulf Stream has been rapidly winding down over the past 12 months.
He said experts had feared an especially severe winter last year after signs emerged during the autumn.
However a ‘lag effect’ helped narrowly dodge a crippling whiteout although this winter now threatens to bring the much-feared mega-freeze.
Mr Madden said the big chill could start to tighten its grip as soon as next month thanks in part to abnormally low solar activity.
He said: “October is likely to see a real chill at times in terms of temperatures due to below-average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and a virtually non-existent Gulf Stream.
“This is of some real significance to us in terms of future weather patterns and this is also likely to result in a much colder than average November with the first significant snow of the year in parts of the north.
“There will also be some snow to much lower levels of the country at times within this period, and even parts of the south could see some early snow before we enter December this year.”
He said although the Gulf Stream started to show signs of weakening last year Britain the effects missed being strong enough to adversely affect the winter.
However the coming months are is showing signs of putting 2015/16 into the record books for all the wrong reasons.
Mr Madden said: “The Gulf Stream started showing signs of waning towards the end of last year, and it should have impacted our winter with some much colder and snowier conditions than it actually did.
“However there is an important lag effect with this process that should be taken very seriously for later this autumn and for the upcoming winter of 2015/16, the overall situation has worsened.
“This is in part due to the period of low solar activity that we currently reside in and how this heats this vital ocean current, and even more so as to how it impacts our long term weather patterns in terms of blocking and frequent cold incursions.
“Exceptional winds are also part and parcel of these Gulf Stream changes and this is also something that will be problematic at times throughout the upcoming autumn and winter periods once again.”
Scientists say part of the problem could be due to the melting Greenland ice cap allowing huge volumes of fresh water to flood into the North Atlantic.
Fresh water floats on top of the ocean saltwater hindering the normal currents which are driven by a constant sinking of cold water to the ocean bed.
This has slowed down the pace at which the Gulf Stream channels warm water from the Caribbean, up the coast of the US, and to north Europe.
Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said it has slowed by between 15 and 20 per cent.
This has resulted in cooling equivalent to switching off a million power stations with possible catastrophic effects this winter.
Professor Rahmstorf said: “There is more than a 99 per cent probability that this slowdown is unique over the period we looked at since 900 AD.
“We conclude that the slowdown many have described is in fact already underway and it is outside of any natural variation.”