SCHOOLS in many parts of Scotland were shut today as Yorkshire braced itself for winds of up to 90mph along with heavy bursts of rain.
Eight local authorities closed all their schools early this morning, while at least six more said schools would shut at lunchtime.
Winds of up to 100mph have been forecast, with the strongest gusts expected to hit the west of Scotland and the central belt from 12pm, and from 3pm in the east, hitting rush-hour traffic.
In Leeds city centre, Bridgewater Place place was closed to high-sided vehicles because of strong gusts. The decision came nine months after Edward Slaney, 35, of Sowerby Bridge, Halifax, was killed when a lorry was blown over near Bridgewater Place. We asked locals about conditions in the area - watch our video above.
The Met Office issued its highest – red alert – warning for winds of at least 75mph in Scotland between 3pm and 6pm.
It also issued a lower “be aware” warning for parts of northern England. A spokesman said that travel conditions in Scotland will be “extremely poor” and motorists could be faced with “significant delays” while the Highways Agency advised drivers in the North-East, North-West and Yorkshire to check the weather forecast and road conditions before they travel.
The East Coast train company said there were extended journey times on its services north of Edinburgh due to 50mph speed restrictions.
Early morning services from Hull and Harrogate began instead from Doncaster and Leeds respectively, while services north of Newcastle were being provided using diesel trains only.
Some services between London and Newcastle were expected to be slower than normal due to speed restrictions.
East Coast’s direct service this evening to Hull, Brough and Selby will terminate at Doncaster, while this evening’s direct service to Harrogate and Horsforth will terminate at Leeds.
Services operated by the CrossCountry, First TransPennine Express and Virgin train companies were also affected by the speed restrictions as well as flooding which hit services in the Penrith area of Cumbria.
No school in Glasgow - Scotland’s biggest local authority - will open today.
East Ayrshire, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, North Lanarkshire, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire councils also said all there schools were closed.
The Government warned that travel conditions could be “dangerous” and road users may experience severe delays of several hours or more.
Key travel routes are likely to be closed and severe gales could lead police to advise against all travel, the Scottish Government said.
Although Scotland will bear the brunt of the bad weather, other parts of the UK could also be affected by strong winds.
Lindsay Dovey, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, 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.”
She said temperatures would range between 7C, in Scotland, and 13C, in the south of Britain, but added: “It will feel much colder because of the wind.”
All classes at Glasgow and Strathclyde universities were cancelled, affecting thousands of students.
Glasgow Caledonian university was open, but asked students to take travel advice if they planned to come in.
The weather also brought disruption to the country’s transport network.
The Forth Bridge is expected to close after 3pm as a precaution against the high winds.
The bridge is likely to be closed to high-sided vehicles, motorcycles, pedestrians, and cars with trailers, roof boxes or caravans for much of the day.
Drivers were told to “exercise extreme caution” and to check conditions before travelling.
Part of the A8 in Renfrewshire was closed between the Langbank roundabout and the Woodhall roundabout in both directions because of flooding.
ScotRail and Network Rail said speed restrictions of 50mph may be put in place from 10am today.
Caledonian MacBrayne ferry services to North Uist, Harris, Mull, Islay, Gigha, Coll and Tiree, and Arran were cancelled, and other sailings severely disrupted.
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “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.
“On the basis of the earlier red warning from the Met Office, some councils had already taken the precaution of closing schools early to make sure that parents can safely collect children before the most dangerous weather and travel conditions arrive.
“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.
“The decision is a matter for individual authorities but the warnings are of the highest level of seriousness and we are clear that safety has to be the paramount issue.
“Parents should check locally through websites, local radio and with their schools to find out the specific situation with their own schools.
“All commuters are advised that if they can adjust their working pattern to reflect the latest weather and travel advice, or work from home, that would be a very sensible step to help avoid possible traffic disruption.
“The authorities are all working hard to keep Scotland moving.”
Dumfries and Galloway police warned of hazardous conditions throughout the area, with surface water and flooding on roads.
A spokesman said the A74 in Moffat was particularly bad, with standing water causing delays in both directions. He urged people not to drive and warned conditions will get more dangerous as the day goes on.
Water was also building up on the surface of the M8 between Livingston and Hermiston Gait in Edinburgh.
In Stirlingshire, the M9 was also restricted in both directions between junction 9 at Bannockburn and junction 11 at Dunblane because of surface water.
In Tayside, snow closed the Spittal of Glenshee area and flooding is being reported on the A9.
ScotRail introduced speed restrictions of 50mph on all trains in case of falling trees and other debris, and damage to overhead power lines.
Steve Montgomery, ScotRail’s managing director, said: “We will constantly review weather forecasts and respond accordingly. Our aim is to ensure as robust a service as possible.
“The forecasts are that the peak of the high winds will be in the afternoon and early evening. If that happens, it would be a sensible step to allow more time for journeys, to keep checking our website and where possible, leave work earlier to avoid rush hour.”
Trains between Aberdeen and Inverurie, Glasgow and Dunblane, and Edinburgh and Glenrothes were cancelled, while other trains will run less frequently than usual.