CHRISTMAS travellers face potential disruption from snow and ice then flooding this weekend with severe weather warnings being issued today by the Met Office.
The yellow “be aware” alerts came as train operators and airports were braced for a bumper influx of passengers.
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The AA said there were some ten million cars on the roads yesterday and a poll of its members showed more than one-third said they would drive more than 20 miles as schools break up for the holidays.
AA president Edmund King said: “The Christmas getaway could be a long drawn-out ordeal this year, with a particularly busy start today.
“This is because most schools break up today, Christmas shopping gets going in earnest and consumers have more money in their pocket because of low pump prices.”
Virgin Trains forecast a record Christmas on its cross-Border services from Glasgow and Edinburgh, with 5,000 passengers heading south from Glasgow today – the firm’s busiest day – out of a total of 60,000 over the next two weeks.
CrossCountry Trains said it would carry a similar number.
East Coast said it already had 130,000 reservations for its Scotland-London trains for the same period, while some 5,500 travelled south from Edinburgh yesterday.
However, the operator expected its busiest day to be next Saturday, when nearly 33,000 have booked to travel. The number – twice the normal Saturday total – has been boosted by the post-Christmas closure of sections of the West Coast main line for work at Watford until Monday 29 December.
CrossCountry Trains urged travellers not to bring too much luggage by telling them: “Don’t bring the kitchen sink.”
Glasgow Airport, which handles 7.6 million passengers a year, is expecting its busiest festive period for six years with more than 220,000 travellers scheduled to fly over two weeks from tomorrow.
Edinburgh – Scotland’s busiest airport – said it would handle 130,400 passengers next week, the same as last Christmas.
However, officials expect this to coincide with the airport reaching ten million annual passengers for the first time.
The Met Office said sleet and snow would continue across northern Scotland until this morning, with 2-4cm accumulating above 200 metres and 5-10cm above 400 metres.
A spokesman said: “Frequent showers of hail, sleet and snow are likely, whilst lightning may be an added hazard in some of the heavier showers.
“Some drifting of the lying snow will occur in the strong winds, while icy stretches affect untreated surfaces.
“The public should be aware of possible hazardous driving conditions.”
A further warning was issued for heavy rain across much of western Scotland from early tomorrow until Monday afternoon, including over the M74 – the main artery to England. Up to 50mm could fall, and 80mm in hilly areas
The Met Office said: “The public should be aware of the risk of localised flooding, particularly on the road network, where there will be a lot of surface water and spray.
“Outbreaks of rain reaching north-west Scotland in the early hours of Sunday will spread south-east across the country during the day. The rain will become persistent and often heavy across western areas, and as much milder air arrives, lying snow in upland areas will thaw.
“The heaviest rain looks like becoming more confined to south-west Scotland later on Sunday before potentially moving north again on Monday morning, finally clearing on Monday afternoon.”
Transport minister Derek Mackay urged travellers to check conditions before setting out, such as with the official Traffic Scotland information service.
He said: “We would urge them to leave plenty of time and check the weather forecast and conditions before they leave.”
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