Britain braced for 'weather bomb'
Widespread weather warnings have been issued as the country braces itself for a so-called "weather bomb" set to bring 80mph winds and huge coastal waves.
High winds are set to hit the UK this evening and severe gales expected across north Wales, Scotland, northern England and Northern Ireland over a 48-hour period.
For the west coast of Scotland, the Highlands and Islands and Northern Ireland, the Met Office has upgraded its warning to amber "be prepared" status.
The process behind the storm, - rapid cyclogenesis, known colloquially as a ''weather bomb'' - is a deep low pressure system moving slowly eastwards between Scotland and Iceland.
Many ferry services in Scotland operated by Caledonian MacBrayne have already been disrupted or hit by cancellations as a result of the weather.
Further disruption is likely tomorrow as winds are expected to whip up unusually high waves, with sea swells of up to 12m in parts.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has 19 flood alerts and warnings in place, particularly for coastal areas.
Several train services will also be cancelled tomorrow as a safety precaution, Network Rail and train operator ScotRail announced.
The affected services are Inverness-Kyle/Thurso/Wick, Ayr-Stranraer, Kilwinning-Ardrossan/Largs and Dumbarton Central-Helensburgh Central.
The Glasgow Queen St-Oban/Fort William/Mallaig will also be hit, a route which includes the Caledonian Sleeper service.
Replacement bus services will be considered but are dependent on road conditions, the firms said.
ScotRail confirmed that tickets for travel tomorrow on the affected routes will be honoured today and on Thursday.
Deputy managing director Kenny McPhail said: "We're letting people know as soon as possible to give people time to consider alternatives travel options."
Users of the Forth Road Bridge have been warned to expect significant disruption tomorrow, with the bridge expected to be closed to all vehicles except cars throughout the day.
Hauliers have been advised to plan an alternative route and car drivers are advised to check the weather forecast and adjust their travel plans as required.
The Forth, Kessock and Skye bridges were closed to high-sided vehicles today because of the rising wind speeds.
Some school and council services will be affected by the bad weather tomorrow.
Western Isles Council said all schools and nurseries there will be closed as the police have advised the public not to travel unless it absolutely necessary.
All depots, libraries, museums and sports facilities in the Western Isles will also be shut.
Meanwhile, Christmas rides were today reportedly closed in Edinburgh and the city's Royal Botanic Gardens was closed to the public due to the high winds.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott missed a Holyrood debate on European Union negotiations over the island's economically vital fishing industry because he got stranded by the "weather bomb".
His Liberal Democrat colleague Liam McArthur offered Mr Scott's apologies to parliament.
Looking ahead, Scotland's Deputy First Minister John Swinney has urged people across the country to be on the lookout for travel and safety advice.
"I am confident we are well-placed to cope," he said.
Councils south of the border insisted they are prepared for the plunge in temperatures, with gritters "out in force" and depots filled with about 1.3 million tonnes of salt.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said nearly all town halls have topped up their salt supplies after last year's mild winter meant less grit than usual was needed.
More southerly areas of the country are likely to be hit by a second storm due to roll in from the Atlantic Ocean on Friday.
The Met Office warnings for wind from tonight run through tomorrow and into Thursday morning, extending by that stage to cover the whole of the UK.
Forecaster Kirk Waite said some parts will have "a brief respite" for a time on Thursday before the second weather system develops in the south-west of the country.
The Met Office has yellow warnings for snow in place for the Borders and east coast of Scotland.
Much of Scotland has already seen snowfall and Mr Waite said heavy rain ''could lead to some potential issues where snow already there could melt''.
''The weather warning from 2100 on Tuesday to 0600 on Thursday covers the risk of gusts between 60 and 70mph, and 70-80mph in exposed areas,'' he said.
''Wintry showers moving through Scotland could lead to some very difficult conditions, even isolated blizzard conditions.''
Temperatures over the next few days will not be below average for the time of year, according to Meteogroup forecaster George Goodfellow - but the brisk winds will bring a distinctive chill to the air.
''We are looking at highs of up to 12 degrees in some western areas today, and even 10 degrees in the south east tomorrow, but the strong winds will make it feel fairly nasty,'' he said.
''Temperatures will be around one degree in parts of the Highlands in Scotland on Wednesday night.''