A BODY has been pulled from a river and thousands of people face travel chaos trying to make it home for Christmas as strong gales and torrential rain batter the UK.
The Environment Agency has issued a severe flood warning in the South West due to “extremely dangerous” conditions - the highest level of alert which warns there is “danger to life”.
But it was in the North West where a man’s body was pulled from the Rothay River in Ambleside, Cumbria.
Inspector Chris Wright of Cumbria Police said: “It would be fair to say that the river in its current state did not assist the rescue operation.
“It was fast flowing, and a lot more water than normal, so yes, it’s fair to say that the weather contributed to the problem.”
Travel has been badly hit today, with speed restrictions on East Coast services from London to York because of the high winds and heavy rainfall being forecast which will mean both delays and cancellations to trains.
East Coast has apologised to customers for the inconvenience and said it was “very conscious” that many people will be planning to travel just before Christmas both today and tomorrow.
The announcement comes as the Met Office issued a severe weather warning from dawn today, with the threat of gusts of up to 80mph and localised flooding in pockets of the UK.
The Environment Agency put one flood warning in place in Yorkshire for the River Ouse at Naburn Locks, near York.
The river also burst its banks causing flooding to King’s Staith and Queen’s Staith in the city centre over the weekend.
Forecasters have warned that those travelling by both rail and road face major delays from today while those looking to make an early getaway across the seas have already faced some disruption to services as a result of the adverse weather.
Network Rail’s decision to impose speed limits on services looks to the be the biggest problem facing people travelling to and from Yorkshire.
It has imposed a 50mph speed restriction for services on the line between London King’s Cross and Peterborough, with electrified services restricted to 80 mph between Peterborough and York from midday today, until the end of service in the evening. Services north of York may also be subject to speed restrictions, depending on local weather conditions.
A statement from East Coast said: “We intend to operate the published timetable until 4pm on Monday, after which time the train service to and from London King’s Cross will be reduced to four trains per hour. Customers with tickets for any cancelled services today are advised to travel on the nearest available train before or after their booked service.
“East Coast sincerely apologises to customers for the inconvenience this will cause, especially as it is very conscious many people will be travelling just before Christmas on Monday and Tuesday.
“The company is making extensive efforts to reduce the impact of delays to its services, including the drafting-in of additional staff, but it would ask for the patience and understanding of its customers.”
Emma Compton, a forecaster at the Met Office, said this morning that the disruptive weather is already under way, and will be widespread in just a few hours, adding: “The disruption to transport could be quite severe.”
She said the South West and Wales have already been hit by rain, with heavy rain battering Cornwall, and said eastern parts will experience the same as the morning goes on.
“By lunchtime it will be everywhere,” she said. “It’s going to be fairly persistent.”
Ms Compton warned that south west-facing places will see the worst of the rain, adding that it is “already falling on quite saturated ground”, with the risk of flooding.
“There will be snow for a short time in Scotland but it will turn back to rain,” she said.
Ms Compton said 0.8in (20mm) to 1.2in (30mm) of rain is expected in some places, but southern facing slopes may get more.
“Places like Dartmoor in Devon could see 60mm (2.4in).”
In terms of wind, the forecaster said it is already beginning to pick up in the West with gales at 30mph-40mph.
The worst place will be the south coast and any higher ground, which could see “severe gales” at 70-80mph, Ms Compton warned.
“But more places inland could see wind speeds up to 60mph, so that’s going to be strong throughout the course of the day and ease this evening.”
Ms Compton warned that the wind will pick up again during the night and Kent faces particularly strong gales.
Train operators are warning of widespread delays, disruptions and cancellations, and have made contingency plans with bus firms.
Network Rail said speed restrictions are likely on some routes and many train companies are advising passengers with tickets for today to travel earlier than their booked time, or to wait until tomorrow.
The AA has also warned that disruption is likely on the roads, and advised drivers to avoid any flood water.
The Environment Agency urged people to check its flood forecasts and warned people to keep away from coastal promenades because of wet and windy conditions.
Six flood warnings were in place this morning, along with 74 less serious flood alerts, the majority in southern England.
The worst of the weather is expected to be clear by the end of Christmas Eve, the Met Office said.
Chris Burton, from weather forecaster MeteoGroup, said the combination of wind and rain could cause flooding, bring down trees and leave widespread disruption to rail and road travel.
He said: “The rain is going to be heaviest and most persistent across southern areas of England, the Midlands and Wales, with up to 2in (50mm) of rain falling.
“There has been plenty of wet weather in the last week or so. There is a risk of localised or even widespread flooding if the rain continues overnight tonight, as expected.
“Strong winds will continue throughout today, with gusts of 60mph across England and Wales, Northern Ireland and western Scotland. Overnight they will be even stronger, with gusts of 70mph or 80mph possible across south east England and East Anglia.
“But by first thing tomorrow morning the weather should have turned a bit less wet and windy.”