Will the Beast from the East return this winter? Cold snap driving tips

The so-called ‘Beast from the East’ brought travel chaos to the UK last winter, as sustained freezing temperatures and snow swept the nation.

So should you be preparing for the return of the Beast this winter, and how can you prepare if it does come back?

Here’s our guide to surviving the sequel no motorist wants to see.

Guide contents

What is the Beast from the East?

The Beast from the East was the name given to a spell of cold weather that hit the UK in February 2018 – bringing chilling winds, ice and heavy snowfall to most areas of the country for around four weeks.

The cold spell was caused by a large Arctic airmass that stretched from Siberia in the east to Ireland in the west, so earning the storm its nickname.

The extreme spell saw up to 50cm of snowfall in some parts, leading to significant disruption on the road network and resulting in 17 tragic weather-related deaths across the country.

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Will the Beast from the East return this winter?

There’s been plenty of headlines claiming Beast from the East 2 will hit the UK in the coming weeks, due to a sudden stratospheric warming over the Arctic — but are they correct?

Jason Kelly, Deputy Chief Meteorologist at the Met Office, says that while there has been some warming – which increases the chance of a prolonged cold snap – it’s still too early to tell if the Beast will be back.

He says: “Not all sudden stratospheric warmings lead to colder-than-normal conditions over the UK, and there are other global weather factors that result in blocked weather patterns and possible colder weather for us.

“Towards the end of January, however, there is an increased likelihood of a change to much colder weather generally, bringing an enhanced risk of frost, fog and snow.”

You can watch our Met Office daily weather video to find out if there are going to be weather conditions that could affect your driving over the next three days.

How will a cold snap affect the roads?

Severe winter weather and sub-zero temperatures can cause havoc on the roads and create potentially dangerous driving conditions.

As well as snow and ice, strong winds and fog make driving a challenge for motorists, so it’s imperative that you prepare yourself and your car before heading out, even on short journeys.

Ahead of an expected icy spell, gritter lorries are typically sent out to grit main routes, although many minor routes will not be treated so be aware of the dangers if you’re planning to use them.

Elevated rural areas typically see heavier snowfall and stronger winds, causing even more severe problems on the roads. Last year, Cumbria saw snow drifts over six metres deep — enough to cover a house, let alone a car.

Harsh winter weather can also take its toll on the roads themselves, causing surfaces to fracture and break up. It’s estimated that last year’s Beast from the East caused 5,000 extra potholes on the UK’s road network.

Before heading out in severe weather, always ask yourself whether your journey is necessary. Wintry roads can be deadly and you should only drive if it’s absolutely essential.

If you do head out, make sure you plan your journey in advance, checking the latest traffic news and weather forecasts so you can avoid the worst-hit areas and know exactly what to expect.

How do I prepare my car for cold winter weather?

Before heading out onto the roads during a cold snap, you should ensure your car is fully functioning as cold weather could escalate any underlying mechanical issues.

The RAC recommends drivers remember the acronym FORCES when carrying out DIY car checks on their vehicles — that stands for Fuel, Oil, Rubber, Coolant, Electrics, and Screen wash.

To further help prevent a breakdown if the Beast from the East returns, check out our top tips for preparing your car for a cold spell.

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What should I keep in my car this winter?

Whether you break down in a snowdrift or simply need to clear a little frost off your windscreen, it’s essential to keep your car stocked with everything you might need when the mercury drops.

As well as winter basics like an ice-scraper and can of de-icer, pack plenty of warm clothing just in case you get stranded in your vehicle or need to walk to help, including a hi-vis jacket and boots with good grip.

You should also put a shovel in your boot — particularly if you’re planning on driving on rural roads where snow might drift — and a torch (preferably wind-up) just in case you need to see in the dark.

For more information on the essential must-haves for stocking your car for winter, check out our winter breakdown kit checklist.

Driving in snow

Before setting off make sure you clear all snow from your vehicle, including all windows and the roof. Failing to do so could see you fined, as loose snow can fall off your car and cause a hazard for other road users.

When driving in snow, you should accelerate gently, using low revs and making sure that all your driving controls are operated smoothly and slowly. If your car has a ‘winter mode’ then enable it, as this will help reduce wheel slip.

Drive slowly and always maintain appropriate stopping distances — these will be greater than in normal conditions. Should you encounter a skid make sure you steer into it and don’t slam your foot on the brake.

If you’re caught in a blizzard or heavy snowfall you should use dipped headlights to allow yourself to be seen, and if visibility drops below 100m then put your fog lights on and drive slowly and safely.

For more information, read our complete guide to driving safely in the snow.

Driving on ice

In icy conditions, don’t drive unless absolutely necessary.

If you can’t avoid driving when it’s icy out, the first thing you need to do is clear your windscreen of all ice and frost to ensure you can safely see out of the entire window, and aren’t “portholing”, a practice that could see you fined £60.

Remember, in icy conditions tyre grip is greatly reduced, so braking distances are much longer. Leave a much increased gap to the vehicle in front.

You should accelerate, brake, steer and change gear as smoothly as possible to reduce skid risk, while a higher gear may be more appropriate to help find traction on pack ice.

Black ice — a smooth, transparent layer of ice on the road surface — is another hazard on winter roads as it’s not easily visible to drivers, so be extra careful if the road looks ‘wet’ as it could be black ice.

For more information, check out our advice for safe driving on ice.

What do I do if my car breaks down in cold weather?

A broken-down car in wintry weather can be dangerous for drivers as it could leave you stranded in sub-zero conditions without a safe way of getting home.

For complete peace of mind on the roads this winter, make sure you have RAC breakdown cover that meets your needs, and consider cover with home start assistance if you’re worried about your car starting in cold weather.

Can you call the RAC out without breakdown cover?

Yes. If your car breaks down this winter but you don’t have breakdown cover, you can still call the RAC for breakdown assistance.

Call our hotline on 0333 2000 999 and speak to one of our operators who will be able to set you up on any one of our annual breakdown cover policies immediately. Please note that for the first 24 hours of your policy you will be put on our Roadside Assistance Only policy.

Did you know, you can get fined for moving out of the way of an ambulance?

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