Britain faces a four-day battle against one of the worst winters on record, with transport networks likely to be crippled across much of the country.

With the South of England last night expecting the biggest snowfall for more than 20 years, business groups warned that the "deep freeze" could cost the economy up to £2 billion.

Forecasters said that up to 16 inches was expected to fall in some counties. This would be the heaviest single snowfall in the region since 1987 when 65cm settled in north Kent. Between 10 per cent and 40 per cent of the workforce could be forced to stay at home.

The Met Office issued an emergency warning that “frequent and heavy” snow flurries would continue into the weekend. Such an alert was rivalled only by the one late last year for the floods that brought havoc to the North West.

Hampshire, Wiltshire, west Berkshire and Gloucestershire were expected to receive the worst of last night’s weather, with up to 16 inches of snow. A maximum of 15cm was expected on the outskirts of London. Snow to this depth would be the heaviest single fall in southern England since January 1987, when 65cm fell in north Kent.

A Met Office spokesman said: “This warning is very rare. It’s the level of alert we put out for the floods in the summer of 2007.”

Continue reading at The Times of London