Bands of freezing rain which have doused parts of the country risk turning roads into icy death traps, motorists have been warned.

Roads and railways have been rendered impassable by the coldest start to March on record, stranding hundreds of people in treacherous conditions.

Travel misery could be compounded as freezing rain sweeps across southern parts of England tonight.

The Met Office issued a yellow weather alert until 11.55pm, saying the rare phenomenon could spell icy stretches which may be difficult to see.

The Army has been drafted in as part of a major rescue operation to reach motorists trapped on roads by heavy snow and icy blasts.

Major rail operators including Southeastern Rail told passengers not to travel, while London Waterloo, the UK’s busiest train station, will close at 8pm on Friday as services on South Western Railway wind down from 6pm.

Meanwhile, the RAC said frozen rain – which occurs when snow, ice, sleet or hail passes through a layer of warm air before cooling again closer to the ground, freezing immediately on impact – could pose a deadly road risk.

Traffic spokesman Rod Dennis said: “Freezing rain perhaps represents one of the greatest challenges any driver could face.

“Droplets of rain which come into contact with the ground and other surfaces freeze instantly.

“This creates a huge hazard as roads may look clear and safe, despite actually being potentially icy death traps.

“Where freezing rain is forecast, put simply drivers should avoid using their vehicles in affected areas.”

The Met Office added on Twitter that black ice was a threat that could be caused by freezing rain, as it “may not be visible, but it will be there”.

Strengthening winds caused blizzards and drifting snow in some parts of the country, spelling travel problems for the fourth day in a row.

Yellow warnings for snow and ice are also in place for vast swathes of the country for the whole day.

Temperatures will once again be below freezing for many parts of the UK during the day, with strong winds making it feel even chillier.