Motorists have been warned to avoid all non-essential journeys on Thursday as a storm brings hurricane-force winds, heavy rain and snow.
After a blast of wintry weather caused havoc on roads and rail in Scotland and the North West on Wednesday, the Met Office issued a severe weather warning for gales for the whole of England, with a risk of disruption to transport and possibly power supplies.
Winds of up to 80mph, classed as hurricane force, were forecast in some coastal areas, with the weather warning remaining in place until 9pm on Thursday. Heavy overnight rain was expected to return this morning, before turning into snow on Thursday afternoon on areas of high ground above 300 metres (984ft).
The Environment Agency said there was a risk of flooding in southern and south-east England on Thursday and Friday.
Simon Williams, a spokesman for the RAC, said: “With the low temperatures and the general driving conditions being pretty poor, it will be a challenging time for motorists.
“If you can alter your journey time to coincide with better weather that is a good idea. Some people have to travel if it’s essential, but if the journey is not essential, it should wait until Friday.”
The AA said it had rescued 57 vehicles and attended 8,200 breakdowns by mid-afternoon on Wednesday as northern areas experienced snow, sleet and high winds.
Some rail and ferry services were suspended and more than 100 schools were shut in the Highlands and Islands, Perthshire and Northern Ireland due to the weather.
Several routes in the north of Scotland were closed due to drifting snow and fallen trees, and Cumbria Police warned of icy conditions after receiving up to 40 reports of road crashes. Last night, a gritting lorry overturned in difficult conditions in Carmarthenshire.
Flooding was expected today in Tayside, west central Scotland and south-east England. While the bulk of heavy rain was expected to have fallen overnight, a further 10 to 15mm was expected today, meaning some parts of the country will have seen more than two weeks of rainfall in two days.
The Met Office warned that a deep area of low pressure would bring very strong winds close to the coast of Northern Ireland during the early hours of today, before affecting south-western parts of Scotland later in the morning.
A spokesman added: “The main concerns are from the melting of lying snow as milder air spreads in for a time, increasing the risk of localised flooding, prolonged by another spell of rain which is now expected to return during [today].”
The extreme weather is forecast to continue into next week with more snow and the lowest temperatures of the winter so far.
Leon Brown, a meteorologist at The Weather Channel UK, said: “We should prepare for freezing temperatures and very icy conditions for the coming days, and probably much of next week too.”
Darron Burness, from the AA’s severe weather team, said: “The reality is that while you can have your car completely prepared for winter, you can’t control what goes on around you.
“If there’s an accident ahead or a lorry jackknifes, you’re probably not going anywhere in a hurry, so you need to be prepared for that.
“Likewise, if you break down in a vulnerable location, say on the hard shoulder or blind bend, it’s too dangerous to stay in the vehicle, regardless of the weather. If you’re just wearing shorts and a T-shirt, as our patrols have seen this week, you’re going to have a cold wait.”
He added: “Flooding could be an issue as the snow gives way to rain. If in any doubt, don’t risk crossing a flooded road or ford – just turn round and find an alternative route.”
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