The Met Office has issued yellow weather warnings for snow and ice spanning almost the entire country.
The Arctic blast is set to bring travel chaos as roads, railways and airports struggle with the freezing conditions.
Forecasters say there is a risk of snow and ice between midday today and the same time tomorrow.
A separate warning just for ice is in effect from 10pm tonight and 11am tomorrow.
Met Office maps show almost the whole of the UK – except for the south east and Cornwall – will be affected.
Forecasters predict there will be snow showers, with strong winds and icy conditions that will make travelling difficult, especially over the hills and in northern coastal areas.
Some roads and railways are likely to be affected with longer journey times by road, bus and train.
The risk of severe weather is expected to last through the rest of January and into February as the Met Office warns it cannot rule out a repeat of last year’s ‘Beast from the East’.
Meteorologist Marco Petagna said the drop in temperatures will come as a "shock to the system" following a spell of mild weather.
The heaviest snow is expected in the usual places, including high ground in northern Scotland, where several centimetres could fall over the new few days.
Stornoway, on the island of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides, was one of the places where snow was falling on Wednesday morning.
For the time being, temperatures will remain in the low or mid single digits across the country and they will dip to or below the freezing mark at night.
Wednesday’s conditions including everything from rain and wintry showers to gales and snow.
The Met Office said heavy rain across Scotland and northern England will move south-eastwards and clear south-east England later.
Colder and brighter conditions will move in.
But they will be followed by showers that will be wintry over hills and to lower levels in the north later.
Gales will batter the far north.
Mr Petagna said: "Things are turning colder, but it is just more typical winter conditions.
"It has been so mild this winter that it will be a bit of a shock to the system even though temperatures will be average for this time of year or just below."
He added: "Certainly we could start to see some sleet and snow showers across the higher ground of Scotland."
"It’s nothing unusual, but it’s the first wintry weather that some parts of the UK have seen for a while."
Surviving the cold weather
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