METEOROLOGISTS last night said Scots will need to learn to live with the extreme weather and the chaos it has brought to the country over the past few days, as the unpredictable effects of climate change begin to bite.
Experts from the Met Office told MSPs that the wetter winters and drier summers which would be visited on Scotland could bring "increased intensity of severe weather events" – such as flash flooding – in the years ahead.
They were speaking as Scotland struggled to recover from the gale-force winds and torrential rain which have battered the country for almost 24 hours.
Hundreds of homes were still without power last night and the transport network had been badly hit, throwing the plans of thousands into chaos and causing misery for commuters.
As the wind whipped around Holyrood, politicians were told to expect major climate changes as a result of global warming.
Professor John Mitchell, the Met Office's director of climate change, said the rain would become more intense, which can cause flash flooding.
The environment and rural affairs committee was warned that only 50 per cent of Scotland was covered by high-resolution radars which could predict flooding. More than 90 per cent of England is covered by such technology.
Among the neglected areas is Moray, which has suffered devastating floods over the past decade.
Stephen Noyse, director of operations at the Met Office, said up to 15 million would be required to bring Scotland in line with England. He also recommended a new expert forecast centre be set up to coordinate action.
Mr Noyse warned that the chaos between agencies in the wake of last summer's flooding in England would be replicated north of the Border if there was such a disaster today. He said: "There's a real opportunity, I think, for Scotland to take a leading role in the UK to show what could be done.
"One of these is to invest in weather radars. But I think something more important would be to look at setting up a joint forecasting centre for floods, where organisations like Sepa (the Scottish Environment Protection Agency] and the Met Office are integrated to work together, to target investment and provide information to the public and emergency responders, and provide early warning of the event."
He said such a centre, with between ten and 20 members of staff, could be set up within six months if the agencies were tasked to do it.
Prof Mitchell agreed with John Scott MSP that extreme weather events which had previously happened once a century might now happen every ten to 15 years.
He said by the end of the century, temperatures would have increased by between 1 and 3.5C, and there would be more intense rainfall in both summer and winter.
Speaking after addressing MSPs at an inquiry into flooding and flood management, he told The Scotsman the temperature rise could be slowed if greenhouse gases were reduced.
He compared cutting the pollution to paying off a mortgage – although early contributions barely made a dent in the debt, a few years down the line they became very significant.
Met Office forecaster John Hammond added: "In general terms, climate change means droughts become more severe, summers become hotter and – the key for Scotland – winters become milder. Snow becomes less of a threat, but the other side is they become wetter as well."
IMPERFECT STORM CAME FROM NOWHERE
IT BEGAN to build silently over the Atlantic in the early hours of Monday – an area of low pressure that was barely a blip on the forecasters' radar.
At a point where warm air rose up to hit a cold front descending south, winds began to whip, working themselves up to gale force.
Furiously, the patch began to power north-west of Northern Ireland, spewing vicious rainstorms out on to Scotland, catching the evening commuters on their way home from work. The Met Office issued severe weather warnings and the nation braced itself for the onslaught.
The first casualty was at 11:30pm on Tuesday. Mark Bradshaw, 34, careered into the River Clyde after his car went off Greenock Road between Largs and Skelmorlie in Ayrshire.
A bank-bursting wave engulfed the car, driving it through the crash barrier. He was able to scramble through the smashed passenger-door window and back up the seawall to the road.
Just before midnight, while he was being treated at the scene for hypothermia, shock and bruises, the low pressure crashed into Argyll and Bute, unleashing gale-force winds and storms, before hurtling north-east along the Inner Hebrides to Sutherland and Cape Wrath.
At its lowest point, it had sunk to just 965 millibars: as one Met Office forecaster said, quite an impressive depth.
It sent gusts of up to 80mph and heavy rain into central, western and southern Scotland overnight.
Ferry services between Northern Ireland and Scotland were suspended and, when they restarted yesterday morning, were delayed by up to half an hour.
In Glasgow, where the gusts of wind hit peaks of 83mph, one of the city's best-known landmarks, the Great Eastern Hotel, was partially destroyed. Police closed off Duke Street in the East End at 2am after its roof was blown off, sending chunks of masonry on to the street below.
In Dundee, a section of the roof at Seabraes Hall, student accommodation in Seabraes Court, was blown off at about 3am, damaging cars parked below, as well as a lamp post.
At 3:45am, a train crashed two miles north of New Cumnock in Ayrshire when it struck a tree that had blown on to the line. The driver was taken to Ayr Hospital with minor injuries.
As the country began to rouse, the Met Office issued a severe weather warning of winds up to 80mph, with the prospect of structural damage, and the Forth Road Bridge was closed – although initially cars were allowed to continue to cross.
But by 9:40am, 8ft sections of a painting platform above the carriageways had been torn down by winds which reached 81mph. Some of the panels, weighing 77lb, hit a walkway and the total closure caused five-mile tailbacks at the alternative crossing, the Kincardine Bridge.
Snow was an additional problem on the A884 in Lochaber and high routes in Ross and Cromarty and Sutherland. Combined with ice, it made driving hazardous in Badenoch and Strathspey, and the ski road to the Cairngorms was shut due to stormy conditions.
The resort itself was stormbound due to winds which, at 10am, hit a peak of 140mph.
Blizzards also forced the Glenshee centre to shut.
At 10:08am, Highland Council reported four schools closed due to the weather, affecting 138 pupils; by noon, ten were closed, with 270 children sent home.
In the Western Isles, all 12 schools on Uist and Barra – with a total of some 940 pupils – were closed, and police warned motorists of hazardous driving conditions.
At Caledonian MacBrayne, Scotland's main ferry operator, nearly every service between the mainland and the islands ground to a halt late on Tuesday and early yesterday morning, with some cancelled for the duration of the day.
By 10am, it reported disruption to only two of its ferry routes, but later sailings to the Small Isles and Colonsay were cancelled and there was disruption to several other services.
Five of the firm's scheduled routes, from Mallaig to Canna, Ballycastle to Rathlin, Berneray to Leverburgh, Tayinloan to Gigha, and Oban to Kennacraig, were cancelled altogether yesterday.
Elsewhere, the Northlink Ferries Pentland Firth route saw two services, from Stromness and Scrabster, cancelled yesterday evening. Orkney Ferries also cancelled its late sailing to Rousay.
P&O Ferries services in Scotland were largely unaffected, with only minimal delays.
By mid-morning, the Skye and Kessock bridges had been closed to high-sided vehicles and the bridge to Scalpay in the Western Isles was also shut for a time in the morning. The Dornoch bridge was blocked when a lorry overturned. Further south, the Tay and Erskine bridges were closed to all traffic, and the Friarton bridge at Perth to all high-sided vehicles.
Tayside Police were inundated with calls. Trees and branches littered the roads, although few routes were closed for long.
However, train passengers suffered disruption and delays caused by a Scotland-wide 50mph speed limit.
All Dunblane-Edinburgh trains and half of those on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line were cancelled because of mile-long flooding at Winchburgh in West Lothian, and damage to overhead power lines closed the routes between Glasgow, Ardrossan and Largs. Some 40 passengers on the London-Aberdeen sleeper had to be transferred to buses after it hit a tree at Leuchars in Fife, and two platforms at Edinburgh Waverley were closed after panes from the glass roof fell and smashed.
Some 20 flights, including British Airways services between Edinburgh and Glasgow and Heathrow and Gatwick, were cancelled.
The misery continued into the night, with energy firms still struggling to reconnect power to some of the 22,000 homes which had been cut off.
The reopening of the Forth Road Bridge at 6pm failed to ease major evening tailbacks which had built up on the M9.
As the low pressure drifted by, and forecasters issued soothing reassurances that today would be calmer, the taillights of hundreds of commuters' cars flashed around the Kincardine Bridge as they battled against long delays to get home.
• Additional reporting by Frank Urquhart, Martyn McLaughlin, Alastair Dalton and John Ross.