Travel across a swathe of Scotland will be severely disrupted today after the country’s first red snow alert for eight years caused transport havoc.
The busiest rail lines and main airports are expected to remain shut this morning, while hundreds of schools stay closed for a second day.
There was concern last night for scores of drivers stuck in long tailbacks on the M80 between Glasgow and Stirling and A720 Edinburgh City Bypass. Motorists were urged to stay in their vehicles in the freezing conditions.
Up to 40cm of snow is forecast to fall by today, while a string of further severe warnings will be in force for parts of the country until at least Sunday.
The red warning – the first in Scotland for two years and its first for snow since 2010 – remains in operation across the Central Belt and Fife until 10am.
The Met Office had warned that roads would become blocked by deep snow, with many stranded vehicles. That proved true, with roads closed including parts of the A9 in the Highlands, M74 in South Lanarkshire and A68 in the Borders.
Transport minister Humza Yousaf tweeted: “Looking at live traffic cameras & still seeing far too much traffic on trunk road network. Our advice for last 2 days has been to avoid travel.”
It was a grim journey home for many drivers.
Carol Ann Harrower’s husband was stuck on the M80 near Cumbernauld, trying to get back from Glasgow.
She said: “My husband left work just before 2pm from the Queen Elizabeth hospital – he’s been stuck around Old Inns for more than three hours with no clue as to what’s happening.”
But by 7pm, he had only moved 100 yards. She said: “He said it’s awful – there’s lots of movement on the other side of the road but nothing happening on the northbound side and there’s just no info on how long they’re going to be stuck. He also said he’s not seen any police cars on the northbound side.”
Steve Robertson, who was among those stranded on the Edinburgh City Bypass, tweeted: “Been stuck on the A720 for the last 4hrs and advised a further 4/5 hrs to clear, p*** poor planning and managing of the roads.”
By late morning, ScotRail was urging people to go home immediately, and started closing down routes in the red warning area from 2pm.
Trains on the affected lines, such as between Edinburgh and Glasgow, were halted around 6pm and are not due to resume until 10am.
It said: “Following the red alert from the Met Office, we will not run trains in the affected areas until late morning at the very earliest – and even then we will only be introducing a small number of services if it is safe to do so.”
Virgin Trains East Coast advised passengers not to travel today, while Virgin Trains West Coast has suspend services between Glasgow and Carlisle, with no replacement bus services, until at least lunchtime.
Caledonian Sleeper cancelled all its trains last night.
Bus services were also withdrawn in several areas.
Even the Glasgow Subway, which some workers had relied on to remain operating, closed three hours early.
Despite the system running underground with only a short open air section leaing to the train depot, operator Strathclyde Partnership for Transport justified the early shutdown on “the safety of our staff and for operational safety reasons”.
Airline passengers fared even worse, with Glasgow Airport cancelling virtually all its flights. The runway closed at 6:30am and remained shut for the rest of the day, grounding 202 of the scheduled 213 arrivals and departures.
Edinburgh Airport saw 135 flights being cancelled, with most being halted from late afternoon onwards, while there was also some disruption at Aberdeen.
A spokeswoman said last night: “Most airlines have cancelled their operations from Edinburgh Airport today, with BA and EasyJet confirming their cancellations until lunchtime on Thursday.”
Schools in three in four council areas will stay shut today, giving thousands of children another day off school – but also posing a nightmare for many parents forced to arrange emergency childcare, work from home or take a day off.
Snow depths recorded included 15.5cm in Renfrewshire.
On Great Western Road, a main artery in Glasgow, treacherous conditions brought heavy congestion, with several minor crashes taking place as vehicles lost traction.
Motorists travelling between Anniesland Cross in the west of the city and Clydebank, a journey which would ordinarily take a quarter of an hour, faced a travel time of more than 90 minutes.
An amber – “be prepared” – alert also remains in force for eastern, central and southern Scotland until 6pm today.
The Met Office said this could also bring further “significant accumulations” of snow, threatening to block roads and affect public transport.
A spokeswoman said: “Strong winds will lead to drifting of snow and severe wind chill, while lightning could be an additional hazard, particularly near coasts.”
Nearly all the rest of Scotland apart from parts of the west coast and islands will be under a yellow – “be aware” – alert for the whole of the day.
Here, snow showers could also cause travel delays and vehicles risk becoming stranded.
A further yellow warning has been issued for the Central Belt, east coast and Orkney for tomorrow and Saturday.
It stated: “Snow showers are expected to continue, bringing a further risk of ice and further accumulations of snow.
“Further delays to travel and public transport could occur, whilst some rural communities could become or remain cut off.”
Yet another yellow alert will follow on Sunday, for east coast and Orkney.
The Met Office said: “Frequent snow showers are likely to continue feeding in from the North Sea on a very cold easterly wind.
“Some places are expected to receive an additional 2cm-5cm of snow.”
Grahame Madge, a Met Office spokesman, said: “The red warning for snow is the second red snow warning since the warning changed to an impact-based system in 2011. The other warning covered snow in Wales during 2013.”
Scotland’s last red weather warning was for strong winds in Orkney and Shetland in 2016.