Despite a mild start to the year, this weekend icy Baltic winds from the east will collide with damp Atlantic weather from the west meaning only one thing - winter is coming.

The weather forecast for this weekend and the start of next week sees temperatures plummeting from an unseasonable, mild eight degrees to a chilly minus two.

An area of high pressure over Scandinavia will allow cold air from the Baltic region and western Russia to move towards the UK.

It is uncertain how long the cold weather will stay, and which areas of the country are likely to see snow, but the Met Office has predicted sleet and snow showers in eastern areas.

Although Hertfordshire County Council is still in charge of managing the roads, this is the first winter when newly appointed highways contractors Ringway will be carrying out the work.

The county has access to 12,000 tonnes of salt for treating the roads, and 21 gritting runs have been undertaken already.

In an average winter, 54 out of the fleet of 60 vehicles are used on each salting run, covering nearly half of Hertfordshire's entire road network - more than 1,500 miles.

The number of precautionary salting runs increased from 33 in 2007/2008 to 76 during 2008/2009 when cold winds, dubbed "the beast from the east", blew in from Russia.

Stuart Pile, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, said: "We are keeping a close eye on the weather, and have done everything we can to prepare for a cold snap.

"Our salt stocks are full, salt bins have been filled and district, borough and parish councils have been provided with salt to help keep key routes, particularly pavements, safer during cold spells.

"Salt is the best material we have available to treat snow and ice, but we all still need to be careful and should not drive or walk as if weather conditions are normal.

"If you are driving, please leave plenty of room between you and the vehicle in front, steer and brake very gently and reduce your overall speed.

"Please also allow extra time for any journeys you make. Pedestrians are also asked to take a great deal of care on pavements and when crossing the road."