Britain is in the grip of the longest cold snap for more than 10 years as forecasters predict another week of freezing temperatures.

Cold, mainly dry and frosty conditions, which set in on Boxing Day, are likely to continue for at least seven days as the weather is dominated by a huge region of high pressure coming from the Continent.

For this time of year, forecasters say it is likely to be the longest prolonged spell of cold weather - where temperatures barely rise above zero centigrade (32F) - since 1996.

Usually long spells of cold weather occur around February when the effect of warming from the Atlantic sea is reduced.

"We have another five to seven days of colder weather still to come which will make it the longest spell since 1996 at this early stage of winter," said Philip Eden, the Daily Telegraph weather correspondent.

"Usually prolonged cold spells happen in late January and February because the weather in early winter comes from the warm Atlantic sea rather than the cold Continent.

"Over the last 20 years winters temperatures have risen quite substantially so we have perhaps forgotten what it is like to have this sort of spell of weather.

"They have become less common."

Not only has the weather been cold but for huge swathes of the country, it has been extremely dry.

"Over a huge part of the UK it hasn't actually rained since the 13th of December," said Mr Eden.

"Three weeks without rain at the this time is very unusual and again has not happened since around 1996."

The temperatures are likely to reach their coldest at 15.8F (-9C) on Sunday night when there is also likely to be some rain. Forecasters have warned commuters for the big return to work on Monday to be extra cautious.

"There could be some severe black ice patches on the road for the big return to work because there could be rain falling on frozen ground on Sunday night," said a spokesman for the Met Office .

The relatively calm, cold spell is expected to break after next weekend with bands of rain, strong westerly winds and milder conditions spreading from the Atlantic.

The lowest temperatures this cold snap reached 10F (-12C) in the north of Scotland as freezing prevented the sun from heating the ground.

Manchester was the coldest major city with daytime temperatures persisting close to 27F (-3C) for much of the day. London and the South East were less cold.

These temperatures do not threaten long-term records. Just over a decade ago, in the last days of 1995, new low temperature records were being set in Scotland. The details of these temperatures place the current cold spell into perspective.

On December 30 1995 the UK national low temperature record of 17F (-27.2C) was equalled - on this occasion it was recorded at the small Sutherland village of Altnaharra. This temperature was previously recorded in 1895 and 1982 in eastern Scotland.

Remarkably, 1995 saw new record-low temperatures set for each day from December 27 to 30. Such "date-records" are not that difficult to achieve but this spell of intense cold, just over a decade ago, really shows how much colder the turn of the year can be - and how far from a record we are right now.