THE region was warned last night to brace itself for a week of blizzards and freezing temperatures.

Forecasters say heavy snowfalls and arctic winds will hit the North-East and North Yorkshire with its worst weather of the winter.

But Newcastle United's footballers helped lift some of the gloom yesterday, with a battling 1-0 home win over Chelsea to reach the last eight of the FA Cup, courtesy of a Patrick Kluivert goal.

Ground staff worked frantically to clear the pitch at St James' Park ahead of the fifth round clash and snow fell during the game.

Many parts of the region got their first taste of the bad weather yesterday morning and treacherous driving conditions were predicted after a severe weather warning was issued for the North of England.

Ten inches of snow fell on the North York Moors and heavy flurries were reported in most other areas.

Police across the region blamed the weather for numerous road accidents, including a multiple-vehicle collision on the A19 near Thirsk, North Yorkshire.

Inspector Fiona Snowball, of Northumbria Police, said several cars were stranded on the A19 between the Seaham and Washington turnoffs until gritters arrived.

Rob Nicholls, head of street services for Newcastle City Council, said the city was on red alert. He said: "We monitor on the basis of green, amber and red and the forecast is on red for the next couple of days, mainly because of freezing temperatures."

The wintry weather also caused an unusual phenomena out at sea. Two waterspouts - columns of water and spray formed by whirlwinds - were spotted by Peter Hogg, from the seabird-watching observatory at Whitburn, near South Shields.

He said: "In 50 years of sea-watching here, I have seen many storms but never anything like this."

With more snow predicted last night, the Highways Agency warned drivers to check road conditions before they set out today.

Drivers were advised to be prepared with a "winter weather kit", including warm clothes, a hot drink, de-icer, a torch and a spade.

A spokesman for the Met Office warned the snow could last until the weekend.

He said: "It's going to be a cold week ahead with coastal areas and the Pennines getting the worst of the snow.

"The wind will be a problem and will create blizzard conditions, especially in the first half of the week. Snow will drift and, coupled with ice on untreated roads, will make driving dangerous."

A Highways Agency spokesman said: "Where snow or ice are forecast, our gritters will be treating England's motorways and other strategic roads."

The snow comes after a mild start to the year, with last month being the warmest January for 15 years. It is likely to affect northern, eastern, southern and south-eastern parts of England. It will also fall across the Midlands and on Scottish hills.