Scotland Battered by Winds Exceeding 100 miles per hour
Motorists warned not to drive as hurricane-force winds lash Scotland
Winds of up to 100mph are likely to close bridges, blow over vehicles and damage property, say police
The Guardian (U.K.), Dec. 8, 2011
Motorists across central Scotland have been advised by police not to drive from midday on Thursday because of the hurricane-force winds sweeping the country.
Police said the warning was "not given lightly" but said the winds, which have already hit gusts of 100mph at one Highland weather station, were likely to close bridges, blow over high-sided vehicles and damage property.
The Times of London reported that gusts reached 165 miles per hour in Scotland.
The alert came as thousands of schools across western and central Scotland stayed closed or shut early, after the Met Office issued a red alert for severe gales across the central belt. One school bus, which was not carrying children, was blown over near Dalry, but the driver was uninjured.
The Forth road bridge was shut completely and is likely to remain closed until Thursday evening. Allan Moffat, assistant chief constable of Central Scotland police, speaking on behalf of Scotland's eight forces, said many other bridges were likely to be closed.
"This advice to avoid travel is not given lightly but is based on the clearest information yet from weather forecasters that there will be high winds with gusts of up to 90 miles per hour," he said.
"The timeframe for these exceptional conditions is between noon and 7pm and I am being given clear information that a wide area of Scotland will be affected. People could be putting themselves at considerable risk by travelling in these conditions."
Shipping has been warned of extremely difficult conditions around Scottish coasts, with winds as high as severe gale 9 to violent storm 11.
Colleges and universities, parks, public buildings, council offices and airports in central Scotland have been closed down or are seeing significant disruption.
Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy first minister, said on Thursday morning the severe weather was expected to be "quite exceptional" and "dangerous" across the west, central belt and south of Scotland, potentially reaching or breaching previous high wind speed records.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Sturgeon added that some schools already due to shut at noon may be closed earlier if the weather deteriorates more quickly.
"The very latest information from the Met Office's chief forecaster … shows that we can expect very severe gales, at wind speeds not seen for many years, across large parts of western, central and southern Scotland throughout Thursday," she said.
"In light of [the] latest forecast, and in particular the timings which suggest the severe weather affecting the west-central part of the country earlier than originally anticipated, some of these closure timings may have to change."
In south-west Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway council cancelled meetings. Glasgow and Strathclyde universities cancelled lectures and exams, and advised students not to travel in, with other colleges following suit. Across Scotland, 24 of 32 local authorities shut schools for the day, or at noon.
Gale-force winds struck the Western Isles early on Thursday morning. Transport chiefs and police reported road closures caused by flooding led to severe disruption for commuters across west central and central Scotland.
Although it stressed the gales were not expected to continue over Thursday night, the Met Office said that during the gales driving conditions were likely to be "extremely poor".
The police warned that many bridges could be closed, with speed restrictions and high-sided vehicles already banned on the Skye, Forth road and Erskine bridges, with the Forth road bridge expected to close entirely at 3pm.
In the Hebrides, Caledonian MacBrayne ferry services to North Uist, Harris, Mull, Islay, Gigha, Coll and Tiree, and Arran were cancelled, while other sailings were severely disrupted.
The heaviest winds, with gusts of up to 90mph, were expected to strike Glasgow and the Strathclyde area before midday, with the gales due to hit central and south eastern Scotland on Thursday afternoon.
ScotRail advised commuters to leave work early to avoid train cancellations and other disruption, and has prepared an emergency timetable. Network Rail is expected to set a 50mph speed limit for all services in Scotland because of the greatly increased risk of fallen trees, flooding and debris on the tracks.
Lindsay Dovey, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, also warned of strong winds across northern England and Wales, stretching as far south and east as East Anglia.
She said: "There will be gusts of 100mph in north-west Scotland and over high ground. Gusts of up to 70mph are expected in northern England and north-west Wales.
"Across central England and East Anglia, we'll have gusts of 55 to 60mph, and up to 55mph in the south of the UK."