Humza Yousaf: '˜Beast from the East' warnings could have been clearer

Confusion over severe weather warnings during the "Beast from the East" snowfall could lead to changes to the system, transport minister Humza Yousaf told MSPs today.

Hundreds of drivers were stranded overnight on the M80 on 28 February. Picture: PA

The first top-level Met Office red warning for snow in Scotland for eight years was triggered by the worst snowfall for two decades on 28 February.

It caused widespread transport disruption with hundreds of drivers stranded overnight on the M80 between Glasgow and Stirling.

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However, Mr Yousaf said there had been confusion over lesser amber - "be prepared" - warnings, which were in force before and after the red - "take action" - alert was in operation.

Severe weather warning colour matrix. Picture: Met Office

He described these as "severe amber" warnings - or more significant than the amber warnings that had been issued for snow in January.

The difference is because amber warnings can vary in severity depending at which point they are in the matrix used to calculate them, which is based on a combination of the likelihood and expected impact of bad weather.

BACKGROUND: Drivers stranded for up to 13 hours overnight on snow-covered M80The minister told the rural economy and connectivity committee: "I was very aware that when the warning went from red to amber people thought everything would be ok.

"Even when it went from amber to yellow ["be aware"], we still faced challenges."

Severe weather warning colour matrix. Picture: Met Office

Mr Yousaf said the authorities had tried to issue more "aligned" warnings when the Beast from the East hit because those put out for the January snowfall had been too numerous and confusing.

Bus operators agreed the warnings could have been communicated better.

George Mair, director of the Confederation of Passenger Transport Scotland, said: "There appeared to be different understandings about the warnings."

He suggested adopting a numerical scale that is used in several European countries.

Asked about whether the M80 should have been closed, Mr Yousaf said it would simply have transferred traffic to smaller roads which would have been more difficult to keep clear of snow.

He said freeing vehicles and rescuing people would also have been harder.

Mr Yousaf said the motorway could not have been kept open because of the sheer scale of the snowfall.

He said: "It was utterly relentless. We just had constant blizzard conditions.

"There simply was no let up."

The minister also repeated that it was unacceptable that people had had their pay docked for not travelling to work in the snow.

However, he acknowledged: "Employers might not know how to handle that, and let's give them the benefit of the doubt."

Coatbridge and Chryston SNP MSP Fulton MacGregor told the committee he had taken up the case of a woman who had been sacked for not travelling, which he was trying to resolve.

Alex Hynes, managing director of the ScotRail Alliance with Network Rail Scotland, said he was satisfied with its preparedness and resilience during the snow, but admitted it could have been quicker to confirm timetables for the following day.

He said 5,000 claims a day for "delay repay" refunds for travel disruption had been made during the snowfall compared to the usual 2,000 a week.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government's Transport Scotland agency, which is responsible for trunk roads like the M80, said: “The transport minister is keen that government, Police Scotland and others learn lessons from weather events this winter season to improve the resilience effort during similar conditions in the future.

“Transport Scotland and Police Scotland are in constant communication during severe weather events, and both parties will take police travel warnings under review to ensure travellers have the most up to date information available.”