ALMOST 200 schools across Scotland, from the Borders to Shetland, were closed yesterday as heavy snow returned with a vengeance, causing the most widespread disruption to education of the winter so far.
Tayside was hardest hit by the renewed Arctic conditions which swept down the east coast of the country.
Dundee City Council took the rare decision of ordering the closure of all 37 primaries and nine secondaries in the city and closed all local authority offices at lunchtime after up to eight inches of snow fell in the early hours of yesterday.
The city's main bus operator, Travel Dundee, also pulled the company's fleet of 120 buses off the road because of the treacherous conditions.
A council spokesman said: "Dundee City Council shut all schools at lunchtime. This followed a morning of heavy snow and Met Office forecasts of continuing snowfall throughout the afternoon.
"The decision had also been influenced by the announcement that local bus companies' services were being withdrawn or limited."
A total of 11 schools were closed in Perth and Kinross and two primaries were shut in Angus. The largest number of school closures was in Aberdeenshire, where 57 primaries and secondaries were either fully or partially closed due to adverse road conditions and new falls of heavy snow.
A further nine schools were closed in Aberdeen, 19 in Moray and 15 in the Borders. All of the schools in Highland were closed yesterday because of the start of the mid-term holiday rather than the weather. Heavy falls of snow also blanketed the Shetland islands, causing the closures of all 34 schools. Inverness Airport was closed for most of the morning.
A spokesman for Grampian Police said the snow gates on the A939 had been closed on the Aberdeenshire approach to the Lecht ski centre because of heavy snow.
The A95, south of Aberlour, was only passable with care, as were stretches of the A96 main Aberdeen to Inverness road at the Glens of Foudland .
Tayside Police said last night that the force was becoming increasingly concerned for the safety of youngsters who were playing on frozen lochs, ponds and waterways in the area, apparently oblivious to the dangers they faced.
Ron MacNaughton, the Divisional Community Safety Inspector, said: "We have received several calls from concerned members of the public who have seen young people playing on ponds. At this time of year and in current temperatures, ponds will freeze and anyone who steps out on to the ice is placing themselves in great danger of being injured should the ice crack and they fall in to the water below.
"There is no such thing as safe ice and I am asking for the support of parents to help ensure that a serious incident doesn't occur.'"
The Met Office last night issued a severe weather warning for the north-east of England as the heavy snow showers which had blanketed Scotland crossed the Border.
The Arctic conditions caused flight delays and cancellations at Newcastle Airport and the closure of the A68 at Carter Bar in Northumberland. Visibility on the A1 around Tyneside was also reported to be poor by Northumbria Police.
The M53 was shut in both directions between junctions five and seven after police said the conditions were "too dangerous".
Sleet, rain and ice are forecast for weekend
MET Office weather forecast for Scotland covering today, Saturday and Sunday:
• TODAY: The day will start with widespread ice on untreated roads and pavements.
Eastern Scotland, Cape Wrath to Glasgow and Dumfries will be frosty but bright for most of the day.
Anywhere in the west will be cloudy, but there is likely to be snow on higher hills. Glasgow will experience some sleet.
There will be areas of sunshine over Tayside, Aberdeenshire, Caithness and Sutherland and Orkney and Shetland.
• TOMORROW: The east of Scotland will wake to a frosty morning and rain is expected spreading inwards from the east.
There will be sleet at low levels but as the temperature gradually rises this will turn to rain which will fall more or less across the whole of Scotland.
There is not expected to be much snow but what there is will fall across the eastern side of the country, largely in the afternoon.
• SUNDAY: Outbreaks of rain are forecast for western and northern Scotland. It will be mainly dry elsewhere, with some rain later in the day for eastern and southern parts of the country. No snow is forecast.