LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has just gone through its coldest December since nationwide records began 100 years ago, the Met Office said on Wednesday.
The country shivered as temperatures averaged minus 1 degree Celsius, well below the long-term average of 4.2 degrees, and colder than the previous record for the month of 0.1 degrees hit in 1981.
Provisional figures released by the forecaster showed that December saw exceptionally cold and snowy weather across the country, with temperatures regularly falling to between minus 10 and minus 20 overnight.
The Arctic blast caused havoc with the country's transport sector, closing roads, airports and railways and hitting retail sales during the traditionally busy Christmas period as shoppers struggled to get to stores.
The Met Office said that over the last 50 winters, there have been eight similar spells of severe weather.
It also said December 2010 was the coldest month in England and Wales since February 1986, the coldest in Scotland since February 1947 and that in Northern Ireland it was the coldest on record.
Despite the freeze, the forecaster said precipitation including snow and rain was less than half of that expected for the month, making it sunny and dry, and the third driest since records began in 1910.
The Met Office told the government in October to prepare for an exceptionally cold winter, but decided against informing the wider public after opting last year to drop seasonal forecasts in favor of monthly ones.
The change followed criticism over predictions of a "barbecue summer" in 2009 which ended up being a washout.
Reporting by Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Steve Addison