Freak 'polar vortex' threatens coldest winter in 50 years
Forecasters warn heavy snow and icy roads could rival Big Freeze of 1963
The country is facing the coldest winter in more than 50 years due to a freak combination of weather elements.
We could be facing four weeks of freezing temperatures, with snowfalls over 60cm in depth, from the Christmas period through to late January.
Temperatures could sink as low as -10C, long-range weather forecasters have warned, as a "polar vortex" threatens the Gulf Stream which dictates our weather.
This would allow bitterly cold winds to sweep in from the east, bringing icy conditions similar to the Big Freeze of 2010, and possibly as bad as the infamous winter of 1963.
Met Eireann warned that it is still too early to make such exact predictions - although the immediate forecast is for icy weather into late December.
James Madden of Exactaweather.com said that, in a worst-case scenario, Ireland is looking at a big freeze that will rival the icy winter of 1963, which brought the entire country to a standstill.
An astonishing 45cm of snow fell in a matter of hours and a number of people died from hypothermia and weather-related accidents.
If the long-range predictions are accurate, weather matching the extended chill of 2010 will arrive some time between Christmas and New Year's Day.
Mr Madden warned that the next 10 days will determine whether the Arctic weather front develops as feared for late December.
The threat of Ireland facing its worst winter in decades hinges on three elements -heavy Siberian snow falls; Arctic weather disrupting warm Atlantic currents; and Icelandic volcanic activity which has lowered sea temperatures.
The Gulf Stream is a warm current that moderates Ireland's winter weather - but it may be pushed further south than normal, thereby exposing the country to harsh weather from the Arctic.
"This is called a polar vortex whereby freezing Siberian winds are effectively pushed over Ireland.
"Without the influence of the Gulf Stream and its vital heat source, we can expect a horrific winter to develop with frequent blizzards and strong winds as well as extremely cold conditions," Mr Madden said.
At greatest risk will be northern areas, Dublin and the eastern seaboard, although parts of Munster can also expect heavy snow falls.
However, some forecasters think that temperatures will remain extremely changeable.
The UK-based MeteoGroup forecaster, Paul Mott, said we may see variance between an icy -3C to a balmy 13C over the next fortnight.
The Government insisted that Ireland is prepared for any harsh weather with lessons having been learned from 2010.
"We have tonnes of salt, quite literally. We used 200,000 tonnes in 2010 and, for the winter ahead, we have stocked up with 230,000 tonnes, just in case," the National Roads Authority (NRA) said.
The winter of 2009-2010 was the coldest in Ireland in 31 years but, just 12 months later, Ireland experienced the coldest December in a century.
The weather forecasts also meant bookmakers Ladbrokes cut their odds on snow falling on Christmas Day to 4-1 for Dublin and Cork, and just 3-1 for Belfast.