THE Met Office has issued an upgraded “be prepared” warning for strong winds, gusting close to 100mph, sweeping across large swathes of Scotland today, but the worst of the weather hit the rest of the UK as the death toll from the violent storms rose to five.
Some of the worst chaos was at Gatwick airport in West Sussex where a power outage at North Terminal led to cancellations and delays.
Although Christmas Day is expected to see calmer weather, more storms are expected on Friday.
Tens of thousands of households in the UK were without power after Monday’s downpours and strong winds.
Southern Electric restored power to 40,000 homes, but 70,000 remained without.
A man whose body was pulled from the fast-flowing River Rothesay in Ambleside, Cumbria yesterday was named as Simon Martindale, 48, of Hest Bank, Lancaster. Shortly before, he was seen walking his dog nearby.
A woman died in a river in Gwynedd, North Wales, yesterday, another was killed in a car accident in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, last night and a man died in a crash near Bodmin, Cornwall on Sunday night.
A man died after being taken to hospital with serious injuries after he jumped into a fast-flowing river to rescue his dog.
Witnesses saw the 46-year-old being swept away after he leapt into the River Lemon in Newton Abbot, Devon, at 11.15am today. The dog managed to escape from the water unharmed.
Amber warning - Highlands and Hebrides
The Met Office issued amber “be prepared” weather warnings for today to cover the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the north-west Highlands, Argyll and Bute, Orkney and Shetland.
The rest of the country was covered by less serious yellow “be aware” warnings and people have been warned to expect power cuts in some areas.
The public has been told to prepare for “significant” travel disruption with forecasters predicting widespread gales across the country, with gusts of 65mph to 75mph in many areas.
The new weather warnings were issued for Scotland as gale force winds and heavy rain caused road and rail chaos in England on one of the busiest travel days of the year.
Many train services in the south of England, South Wales and the Midlands, including those operated by Virgin, East Coast and South West trains, were disrupted or cancelled as some rail companies imposed speed restrictions on services.
People heading to Scotland from London for the festive season were among those hit by the chaos as East Coast trains announced yesterday afternoon that rail services from King’s Cross were unable to go beyond Peterborough because of overhead wire problems.
A tree blown down on to overhead wires at Knebworth also caused delays of up to 60 minutes to trains between King’s Cross and Stevenage.
Motorists in England also faced treacherous conditions for their journeys home, with flooding affecting many routes.
Meanwhile, snow continued to cause disruption to roads in the north and north-east of Scotland. Police Scotland yesterday closed snow gates on the A9 trunk road between Perth and Inverness at Dalwhinnie, Ralia and Trinafour; and snow gates were closed on the A939 between Cockbridge and Tomintoul, and between Gairnshiel to Corgarff and on the A93 Braemar to Glenshee road.
A gritter lorry slid off the B709 Heriot to Innerleithen road in the Borders due to icy conditions, while, in Dumfries and Galloway, flooding closed the A701 between Moffat and Dumfries for several hours.
The RAC estimated more than 13 million vehicles will hit the country’s major roads today, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, as people gather with family and friends for the festive break.
An RAC spokesman said: “Christmas Eve is estimated to be the busiest day, with more than 4.3 millions vehicles using motorways and major trunk roads.
“And on Christmas Day, a massive 3.7 million vehicles will take to the road network, while Boxing Day should see slightly more at 4.1 million.
“We advise motorists to plan and prepare thoroughly before setting off on their journeys.”
Traffic Scotland operator manager, Stein Connelly, said: “This is obviously the time of year when many people are travelling home and we would urge them to take the weather conditions into consideration.
“The Inner and Outer Hebrides, the north-west Highlands and the Northern Isles will be particularly badly affected by the winds and we would remind people that bridges in these areas may have to close.”
He continued: “The rest of the country will experience some strong winds and this could lead to some isolated problems. The message, as always, is to make sure you have as much information as possible before starting your journey.”
Flood warning - Western Isles
A Scottish Government spokesman urged the public to prepare for the deteriorating weather conditions today.
Last night, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency also issued a flood alert for today for the Western Isles. A spokesman said: “A large surge is forecast to coincide with high tides on Tuesday. Strong south-west to westerly winds at this time also increase the risk of wave overtopping to exposed communities or roads.”
Ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne urged anyone intending to travel with them over the holiday period to be as flexible as possible.
A CalMac spokesman said: “We have been advised there will be prolonged periods of severe weather hitting Scotland over the next couple of weeks, including the Christmas and New Year holiday period. It is likely that our timetables and sailings will change at very short notice as we endeavour to maintain lifeline services.”
Scottish Hydro said hundreds of engineers and support staff will be working in depots and offices to respond to any damages to the electricity network.
Extra call handlers would also be working.
CHRISTMAS EVE: Icy conditions early morning. Snow will push in across the north-west. Winds will pick up in the west and north – gusts of 90mph to 100mph in hills.
CHRISTMAS DAY: Some snow showers over higher ground in the north. Winds reduce to 25mph. Still breezy in the far north and Northern Isles, but the south and east will be mainly dry with sunny spells. About 5C.
BOXING DAY: A few snow showers, but most of Scotland will be dry, with bright or sunny periods.