Northern Ireland was battered by gusts of up to 80mph last night as the British Isles were subjected to hurricane strength winds and “unparalleled” flooding.
A Met Office yellow wind warning – its second highest alert – was in place last night for Ulster, with Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) on high alert overnight to maintain power supplies.
Snow and ice caused disruption across many parts of Northern Ireland yesterday and resulted in the closure of a dozen schools, while a coastal road near Warrenpoint collapsed into the sea.
The conditions have been caused by a major low pressure system across the entire British Isles. Northern Ireland is on the less extreme fringe of the storm, while there were red wind alerts – warning of risk to life and severe damage to property – as winds of well over 100mph swept across northern England, Wales and the Republic yesterday.
Power to thousands of homes was cut and transport was widely disrupted.
There were 16 severe flood warnings in place for Berkshire, Surrey and Somerset, prompting assistant chief of the defence staff Major General Patrick Sanders to describe the floods as an “almost unparalleled natural crisis”.
NIE last night initiated an ‘escalation plan’ and had emergency crews, engineers and call handlers on standby.
It warned that with winds of up to 80mph expected there was a possibility of damage to the network, especially in exposed southern and eastern areas.
A Met Office yellow wind warning remains in place here until 3.35pm today, indicating that the public should be aware of winds of up to 60mph.
Rain, which could fall as snow on higher ground, was also predicted overnight into today.
Today will be drier in the morning with a glimpse of sunshine and snow on the higher ground, while tomorrow will start dry with another band of rain which could fall as snow or sleet.
A Met Office spokeswoman told the News Letter: “This is a particularly strong winter storm but Northern Ireland is not seeing the worst of it.”
During daylight hours yesterday winds rose to 51mph at Aldergrove with the heaviest rainfall along the north eastern coasts, with almost 30mm at Bangor and 29mm in north Antrim.
The spokeswoman warned that last night’s winds would see gusts of over 70mph and even higher windspeeds along the coast.
Roads Service said a section of the A2 Warrenpoint Road at Rostrevor collapsed into the sea yesterday.
Technical staff and contractors were quickly on the scene to deal with an exposed high voltage NIE cable which needed to be made safe before repair work could begin.
Poor weather conditions and the tidal location delayed operations and the road is expected to remain closed until Monday.
SDLP South Down MLA Karen McKevitt said that the situation is dangerous for both commuters and agency staff on scene dealing with it.
Speaking from the scene, she said the coast had taken “a severe battering over the last few weeks” and added that the route had been “washed away by the awful weather”.
Flooding delayed the 3.10pm Great Victoria Street train to Londonderry by 15 minutes at Templepatrick yesterday, while the 10.30pm Stenaline sailing from Liverpool to Belfast was cancelled due to conditions.
Some Ulsterbus services in Londonderry, Strabane, Coleraine, Omagh and Larne were subject to changes and cancellations.
Grosvenor Road in Belfast was flooded but passable with care and the Shore Road at the Crusaders ground was also flooded with a manhole pushed up onto the road.
Roads Service reported that snow fell on Tuesday night in most areas, with the most significant falls in the north and west of the Province.
There was heavy snow yesterday in Co Londonderry, including Tobermore, Draperstown and Maghera and the A6 between Londonderry and Dungiven was reportedly “treacherous” with compacted snow and ice.
Roads Service salted the scheduled network and used snow ploughs to keep main routes open. It warned drivers to exercise caution, to leave more time for journeys and, where possible, to use public transport.
Earlier, police had warned drivers of hazardous driving conditions on Lough Shore Road, Enniskillen and on the main Omagh to Cookstown road.
Conditions forced the closure of six schools in Co Tyrone and six in Co Londonderry.
Meanwhile, more than 50,000 homes lost power in Wales, 8,100 in south-west England and 10,000 in the West Midlands.
BBC forecaster Darren Bett said red weather warnings, as given for England and Wales, were very rare, adding: “It’s life-threatening and it means people should take action now. It does not get any worse than that.”
In the Republic, the highest alerts possible were also put in place by Met Éireann for counties Cork and Kerry, while six other counties were under an orange alert. There were even reports of a small tornado in Co Roscommon.
Shannon airport was closed due to winds of over 100mph and 260,000 electricity customers in the Republic lost power. Strong winds also tore the roof off Limerick Boat Club.
l NIE Customer Helpline is 08457 643 643 or report faults online at nie.co.uk. See Twitter @NIElectricity for regular updates.