Parts of Britain have been placed on amber alert as the country lies in wait for widespread snow.

The Met Office’s severe weather warning, at the second highest level, urges people to be prepared for travel disruption as forecasters warned of up to 15cm of snow.

Sub-zero temperatures are expected in much of the country, with the mercury likely to hit minus 9 across the Midlands. A temperature of minus 10.6C was recorded in Chesham, Buckinghamshire at 2am, and of minus 10.3C in Benson, Oxfordshire.

Billy Payne, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: “We will see a frontal system that will push south eastwards across the UK and the rain associated with it will turn to snow. There will be some significant accumulations quite widely across much of England. Away from the South West and across eastern parts of Scotland we are looking at 5 to 10cm of snow in many areas.

“And for many parts of northern England, East Anglia and the Midlands we may see up to 15cm in places. Wales and the South West along with parts of western Scotland will mostly see rain. There will be rain for Northern Ireland as well but I think elsewhere we are looking at risk of snow.”

The amber alert applies to Yorkshire and Humber, the West Midlands, East Midlands, east and south-west England, as well as London and south-east England, and north-west England. A yellow alert, which warns people to take care, was in place for parts of Scotland, Wales and north-west England.

Much of England is also under a Cold Weather alert of level 3, which warns of “100% probability” of severe cold weather, icy conditions and heavy snow. The deep freeze has seen daytime temperatures plummet four or five degrees lower than average for February – traditionally the coldest month of the year.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association (LGA) said an army of council staff and volunteers would be braving the elements to make sure vulnerable people were cared for, and residents were also being encouraged to call in on elderly neighbours.

The Department for Transport said it was now better prepared than ever for severe winter weather. It said salt stocks across Great Britain stood at more than 2.4 million tonnes – a million more than last year.

The AA said its patrols attended around double the usual number of breakdowns on Friday. Areas expected to record snowfall of up to 15cm include Cumbria, Lincolnshire, East Anglia, North Yorkshire, the Peak District and the Midlands.