Emergency planning has switched in for major services as Storm Ciara begins its assault on the Western Isles.
The islands are under Met Office weather warnings from 12 noon today (Saturday 8 February) until midnight on Tuesday (11 February), with little respite from the wind and additional hazards including snow and lightning.
CalMac has warned of ‘likely severe disruption’ as winds gust up to 80mph across the West Coast region. Services already disrupted include the Stornoway Ullapool route, with the Loch Seaforth tied up at Ullapool after this morning’s early sailing and no return or 2.30pm sailing from Stornoway.
The Sound of Barra service is also currently suspended, with a review due at 3pm, and the Sound of Harris service is cancelled for the remainder of today. All other services to and from the Western Isles are subject to disruption at short notice.
CalMac's director of operations Robert Morrison said: 'Weather for the weekend is looking extremely problematic as far as delivering a scheduled timetable. There is a very high possibility of weather-related disruption to services across all 28 of our routes so people should be aware of this before setting off on their journey. We will of course be looking keep sailings running when conditions allow.”
Meanwhile Loganair have implemented their flight-change plan, allowing passengers who were due to fly during the worst of the weather tomorrow and Monday the opportunity to change flights without additional charges.
A Loganair spokesman said: “In view of the high winds forecast and potential for travel disruption, we are offering customers travelling on all Loganair flights the opportunity to adjust travel plans without charge.
“If you are booked to travel on 9th /10th February, you can choose to re-book on an alternative flight between now and 16th/17th February. If you choose to remain with your original travel plans, please rest assured that we will do everything that we safely can to fly you to your intended destination as close to the scheduled time as possible.”
Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) have moved resources around the network to prepare for the impact of Storm Ciara as it hits the islands. In a social media statement yesterday (Friday) they said:
“We remain on Yellow Alert in the north of Scotland for Storm Ciara. Forecasts show two frontal systems moving in from the west, the first on Saturday from mid-afternoon bringing gusts of 60-70mph across the north of Scotland.
“A second front is forecast to move in from early Sunday morning, with the potential for gusts in excess of 80mph in western areas …. hail showers, heavy rain and lightning are forecast to accompany the strong winds on both days.
“This combination of weather conditions has the potential to result in damage to our network. In response, we have enacted our well-established resilience plans, increasing standby resources in anticipation of potential damage to the network and moving teams and equipment to the areas expected to be impacted.
“Over 470 field and support staff are on duty (and) over 70 mobile generation sets have been placed in key locations to help restoration efforts, with back-up generation stations available. 220 contact centre employees are ready to take customer calls.”
The Met Office warnings predict strong winds from 12noon to midnight today together with heavy rain and some hill snow. Tomorrow there’s a further yellow alert of winds which could gust of up to 80mph throughout the day and from midnight a 48 -hour warning of snow and wind begins, lasting throughout Monday and Tuesday.
A Met Office spokesman said: “Frequent and heavy snow showers will affect the region throughout Monday and Tuesday. Snow showers will mainly be over high ground, giving slight accumulations of 1-3cm above 150 metres and 5-10cm above 300 metres.
“Snow will gradually build up and, in a few locations, accumulations of over 20cm are possible by Tuesday evening over the highest routes. Strong winds…will lead to blizzard conditions at times and considerable drifting of lying snow. Frequent lightning strikes are also possible.”