EXPERIENCED mountain rescuers yesterday issued an Alpine-style avalanche warning as Met Eireann predicted a severe drop in temperatures over the coming days.
Inexperienced climbers have been told to keep off high peaks by Kerry Mountain Rescue in case of an avalanche caused by heavy snowfall.
The rescue team said conditions on the MacGillicuddy Reeks were ripe for the kind of major snow slippages normally experienced in the Alps.
Avalanches occur when thawing takes place above freezing ground, causing the layer of snow above to slip -- with potentially fatal consequences.
Mountaineering Ireland said that climbers without the necessary training could put their lives -- and those of mountain rescue teams -- at risk by attempting to scale the country's highest mountains.
Chairman of Mountaineering Ireland, Ruairi O Conchuir, said that all climbers should pay heed to the warning and inexperienced walkers should not venture out.
"The wet, soft snow is expected to continue for the next couple of days," he said. "We have called on all those who use the mountains not to put themselves or members of mountain rescue teams at risk."
High peaks in Mayo, Galway, Donegal, Down and Wicklow should also be avoided unless climbers had the appropriate training, he added.
The Kerry Mountain Rescue team said it was "alarmed" at the levels of unpreparedness they had encountered -- as inexperienced walkers took to the hills.
Meanwhile, Met Eireann said the weather would get even colder over the coming days with night-time temperatures set to fall well below freezing.
Forecaster Joan Blackburn said that up to 5cm of snow was forecast for parts of Connacht and Ulster, already hit by ice after wintry showers and a severe overnight freeze.
Met Eireann has a severe weather warning in place and said temperatures could drop as low as -10C by the weekend.
"If anything, it will get a bit colder over the next few days," Ms Blackburn said. "Night-time temperatures will probably be lower. Heavy showers of snow in Donegal, Mayo and Roscommon. . . will continue."
Weather instruments show that 1cm of snow fell in Baldonnell, Co Dublin, while 10cm was recorded in Knock, Co Mayo.
The weekend will remain as cold with the possibility of "significant" showers of hail, sleet and snow by Saturday, according to Ms Blackburn.
Where the fog fails to clear, temperatures will remain below freezing throughout the day.