100 cars trapped on iced-up North Yorkshire road

HUNDREDS of cars were stranded on snowbound roads for a second night as temperatures plunged towards minus 20C.

Drivers across central Scotland were forced to abandon their vehicles yesterday and on Monday after the worst wintry weather for several decades brought the country's busiest highways to a halt.

Many cars and lorries remained where they were left after the bitterly cold conditions left gritters unable to get them moving safely.

As the big freeze kept its grip on the country, more than 100 vehicles were also trapped on an exposed route in North Yorkshire last night when a sudden heavy snow shower came in.

But Britons do not have long to wait from some respite from the freezing conditions, forecasters say, with temperatures throughout the UK on Friday expected to be above zero for the whole day.

Next week is likely to herald more wintry weather, however.

More snow was expected today across north-east Scotland, Northern Ireland and in Yorkshire and Humber, with widespread icy roads expected up and down the country.

Overnight temperatures in Scotland were expected to drop to minus 20C, with 15C in Yorkshire and parts of Cumbria. London was just below freezing.

Scotland has been worst hit by this week's latest blast of snow and ice.

Yesterday it emerged that one retired couple was left "starving and freezing" for 17 hours on a journey which would usually have taken 40 minutes.

Pensioners Stewart and Kathleen Hendrie left their daughter's home on Glasgow's south side at 10am on Monday and finally sought warmth in a hotel in Cumbernauld at 4am yesterday.

Nearly half of children were also turned away from class north of the border as schools closed their doors.

The M8 motorway between Glasgow and Edinburgh - where hundreds of cars are still stranded - remained closed westbound between junctions one and four, after gritters were unable to remove thick ice.

First Minister Alex Salmond last night admitted his government had been "caught out" by a "perfect storm" of heavy snow and bitter cold.

South of the border, the A171 between Whitby and Scarborough had to be closed temporarily last night when snow fell on ice, making driving extremely hazardous, North Yorkshire Police said.

At least nine people have died so far in the big freeze, including an elderly man found dead in snow at a Lincolnshire caravan park.

Forecasters say the sub-zero conditions will abate at the end of this week before returning during the following days.

Tomorrow night will be much milder, with lows of 2C for most of England, with everywhere staying above zero on Friday. The South West and parts of western Scotland will see temperatures peak at a balmy 9C on that day.

Lindsay Dovey, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "Nowhere will have freezing temperatures on Friday, and just a few places in Scotland will be below zero on Saturday.

"The wind is changing to a westerly direction, which will bring some much milder weather.

"But colder temperatures are returning from Sunday into next week."

The AA said yesterday it had attended a full day's worth of breakdowns by mid-afternoon, with calls peaking at around 2,500 every hour in the morning - around two and a half times the normal rate.

Since the first widespread snow on November 24, it has dealt with more than 230,000 - a 93% increase on the same period last year.

Meanwhile the RAC said breakdowns were 50% higher than normal

The major airports were open today but officials warned of delays and cancellations due to fog and freezing weather.