SCOTLAND is braced for another day of gale-force winds, heavy rain and snow showers, after widespread disruption across the country yesterday.
• Snow covers the Ochil hills near Stirling yesterday. Picture: PA
Motorists in Strathclyde and the Western Isles were urged to stay at home unless their journeys were essential and high winds caused ferry cancellations, while heavy snowfalls affected several areas.
More than 8,000 homes suffered power blackouts last night across the Western Isles and the Highlands.
The Met Office has put severe weather warnings in place for large parts of Scotland today, with gusts of up to 80mph expected in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles until conditions ease this afternoon. Met Office forecaster Robin Steel said: "This is easily the windiest spell of weather we have had this winter."
Winds of up to 80mph were recorded in the Northern Isles and Outer Hebrides, while in the Central Belt there were winds of up to 70mph.
The worst affected area of the country yesterday was the Western Isles, where the high winds forced the closure of all schools by 1pm, the mid-afternoon closure of sports and leisure facilities and the loss of 999 emergency phone services in some parts of Lewis for several hours.
A spokeswoman for Western Isles Council said: "It is anticipated that schools will open on Friday. However, the situation will be kept under review."
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At 5pm, as conditions worsened, an emergency taskforce in the Western Isles urged people to "remain at home in light of the severe weather".
By early evening, Strathclyde Police were also asking motorists only to make essential journeys, after dealing with more than 50 incidents in the space of a few hours.
Firefighters rescued an unconscious motorist from an overturned car on the M73, near Gartcoch, in North Lanarkshire, at about 7:45pm.
He has to be cut free from his vehicle, which had aquaplaned on the northbound carriageway before landing on its roof.
Other incidents in the Strathclyde area included lorries and vans blowing over, trees falling down and falling debris.
The road between the Peat Road roundabout and Crookston Road in the Glasgow area was closed due to a dangerous building in Barrhead Road.
Strathclyde Fire and Rescue dealt with more than a dozen incidents yesterday afternoon, including using a rescue vehicle to remove a metal railing dangling from a tenement in Great Western Road, near Anniesland Cross, in Glasgow. Great Western Road was closed by the police after debris started falling from the roof of the Oran Mor nightspot.
In Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, the driver of a double-decked bus escaped uninjured after coming off the road and sliding down an embankment. No passengers were on board at the time of the accident, near the Moorfield Roundabout, at about 5:30pm.
Ten flights in and out of Edinburgh Airport were cancelled last night due to the high winds buffeting the capital. Further disruption is expected to affect rugby fans travelling to Paris today for the Six Nations clash.
Wind also closed the Skye, Erskine, Tay and Forth Road bridges to high-sided vehicles.
Heavy snow fell on higher ground across northern Scotland overnight from Wednesday, as temperatures plummeted below zero. Among the routes worst affected were the A9, where accidents saw the southbound road blocked near Dalwhinnie, and the A835 between Ullapool and Dingwall, which was badly affected by drifting snow.
A spokesman for Northern Constabulary asked drivers to consider whether their journey could be postponed.
A motorist was cut free from her car after it hit a lamppost on one of the worst-affected roads, the A90 between Aberdeen and Dundee. She suffered a broken leg in the accident, near Forfar.
Many Caledonian MacBrayne ferry services on the west coast were cancelled or disrupted, while overnight ferries to and from Shetland were cancelled.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency had 14 flood watches in place last night, including in Argyll, Falkirk, Stirling, Fife, Skye and Perthshire.
The Scottish Government said it had 115 vehicles on standby after convening its emergency taskforce on Wednesday night.
Transport minister Keith Brown said: "We are urging drivers to be aware of the forecast snowy conditions and to heed police travel advice."