Thousands of homes were left without power, nearly 150 schools closed and transport was disrupted as snow and high winds brought chaos to Scotland.
More snow is expected on Saturday, with Met Office severe weather warnings in place for some parts of Scotland. Forecasters said the Arctic conditions would remain into next week, with strong winds and temperatures dipping to minus 4C.
This time of year is traditionally considered the start of spring, but forecasters said this could be the coldest March in 50 years, with an average temperature of 3.1C, compared with the long-term average of 5.5C.
Today, blizzards blocked major roads, including the A9 and cross-Border A74(M), while winds gusting up to 64mph disrupted ferry sailings and flights.
The south-west of Scotland was the worst affected, and the whole of Arran was left without electricity. Scores of islanders had no water either.
Across the country, 24,000 homes were without power as engineers battled to repair damaged cables.
ScottishPower had 4,000 customers without electricity in the Wigtown and Portpatrick areas of Dumfries and Galloway. Some 20,000 Scottish Hydro Electric customers were cut off, including nearly 4,000 on Arran.
The 19-bed Arran War Memorial Hospital in Lamlash had to switch to emergency generators, as engineers were hampered by blocked roads, while low visibility prevented the use of helicopters.
Some 180 homes on the island were without water because of the power cut, with Scottish Water staff struggling to deliver bottled supplies because of “treacherous” conditions.
There were power cuts across Argyll, including on the Kintyre peninsula, where the main road, the A83, was blocked between Tarbert and Campbeltown.
A total of 117 schools in Dumfries and Galloway were closed, with stretches of two of the area’s major roads, the A77 and A75, closed and scores of minor routes shut. The routes link to the Cairnryan port, where P&O Ferries’ sailings to Northern Ireland suffered delays.
CalMac suspended ferry sailings on several west-coast routes, including Oban-South Uist/Barra and Ullapool-Stornoway. A sell-out concert in Stornoway by former Runrig frontman Donnie Munro was cancelled last night, with the singer stormbound on the mainland.
In Dalbeattie, Kirkcudbrightshire, a bus crashed in the wintry conditions, but the driver and passengers escaped uninjured.
Elsewhere in the region, several lorries crashed off roads, while conditions in Kelton, near Dumfries, were described as “horrendous, blizzard conditions”.
A tree branch stopped trains on the Glasgow-Stranraer line between Maybole and Girvan.
Meanwhile, flights between Glasgow and Campbeltown and Tiree were cancelled because of high winds. Benbecula to Barra flights – which land on Traigh Mhor beach – were cancelled because of tidal conditions.
The A9 suffered a series of closures, hampering travel for delegates to the SNP conference in Inverness.
A lorry jack-knifed across the road near Dalwhinnie at about 11:30am, and drifting snow closed the road a few miles north. The snow gates were then closed between Blair Atholl and Newtonmore, shutting off a 30-mile stretch.
Travellers who took the train instead found some services overcrowded, one passenger tweeted: “Crowding dire.”
Roads closed in the North-east included the A93 between Braemar and Glenshee, and the A939 Tomintoul-Ballater.
AA patrols attended more than 7,000 breakdowns yesterday, including 1,200 in Scotland.
Three hillwalkers were said to have suffered only minor injuries after being rescued following an avalanche in the Cairngorms.
The Scottish Government’s “Resilience Room” was fully operation, working with agencies in the worst-hit areas to tackle problems caused by the weather.
Weather forecaster John Lee said this month could turn out to be the coldest March in Britain for half a century. Referring to 1962, when average temperatures were 2.8C, he said: “That will take some beating. But the way we are going, it looks like we are heading towards being the coldest March since then.”
Bad weather also caused major disruption in other parts of the UK.
In Cornwall, a landslide and floodwater, thought to have been triggered by torrential rain, smashed through a block of flats, partially collapsing the building.
Emergency crews and specialist investigators found a woman’s body after picking through debris at the Veronica flats in Looe. The body is believed to be that of Susan Norman, who was in her 60s and police said was unaccounted for, having not been seen or heard from since Thursday night. Friend Edwina Hannaford described her as “a happy, lovely lady”.
The Environment Agency warned of further flooding in south-west England because of persistent and heavy rain.