Storm Pia set to spark Christmas travel chaos

Storm Pia set to spark Christmas travel chaos

December 21, 2023

Storm Pia set to spark Christmas travel chaos: Met Office map shows yellow alert in place across the country as train operator issues ‘do not travel’ warning ahead of 80mph gales

Rail passengers were urged not to travel in parts of Britain today after Storm Pia swept in with 80mph gusts causing significant disruption to the Christmas getaway.

TransPennine Express (TPE) issued ‘do not travel’ advice customers travelling to and from Edinburgh today, ‘strongly’ urging them to delay their journeys until after 3pm.

A Met Office wind warning covering all of Scotland, Northern Ireland, North Wales, northern England and the Midlands came into force at midnight and will last until 9pm – with the strongest gusts in the far north but 45mph quite widely elsewhere.

ScotRail cancelled all trains on seven routes today, including Inverness to Aberdeen, Wick, Kyle of Lochalsh, Dingwall and Elgin; and Glasgow to Oban and Mallaig

Schools in Shetland were closed and more electricity network engineers are being brought in to deal with any power cuts, while some ferry services were suspended.

The storm’s impacts could also be felt into tomorrow’s getaway when The AA has activated an ‘amber traffic warning’ amid estimates of 16.1million car journeys. 

Holidaymakers queue to check in at Manchester Airport’s terminal one this morning

Storm Pia, named by the Danish Meteorological Institute, has swept into Britain today

Holidaymakers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport’s terminal three this morning

Passengers queue for check in at terminal three of Manchester Airport this morning

Holidaymakers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport’s terminal three this morning

Queues for check in at terminal one of Manchester Airport today, four days before Christmas 

The Met Office said a ‘notably deep area of low pressure’ tracked to the north of the UK over the Norwegian Sea through last night and into this morning.

Forecasters added that the weather could be ‘disruptive’ with the storm bringing ‘very strong winds and heavy showers to a large portion of the UK’.

Conditions will remain windy for many areas tomorrow, with further periods of rain likely to sweep in from the west, and some snow across northern Scotland.

Met Office chief meteorologist Paul Gundersen said: ‘From late Wednesday into Thursday, strong winds are likely to develop across a large area of the UK.

‘We’ve issued a large yellow warning area where there’s a potential for some impacts, but gusts of 50 to 60mph are possible for large parts of central and northern areas of the UK.

‘Exposed coasts and high ground could see gusts of 70-80mph at times, mainly across the far north of Scotland.

‘There’s a chance this low pressure will continue to exert its influence into Friday, so it’s important to stay up to date with the latest Met Office forecast.’

He added that the system had been named Storm Pia by the Danish Met Service, because the system is likely to have more severe impacts in Denmark.

Conditions will remain unsettled this weekend, with further Atlantic frontal systems bringing rain and strong winds in.

Rain is expected to be heaviest in the West and North West through the weekend, with any snow ‘most likely confined to high ground in northern Scotland’, the Met Office said. Some central and eastern areas of the UK should remain mostly dry.

Looking further ahead to Christmas Day, the Met Office said there are still some uncertainties in the details of the forecast.

Mr Gundersen added: ‘Christmas Day looks like being fairly unsettled in northern and western areas. Any showers in the north could be wintry with hail and thunder, but even here, any snow will be mainly on high ground.

‘The south of the country will see the best of the drier and brighter conditions. While temperatures will be near normal for the time of year it will be a windy day for many meaning it will feel colder.

‘Beyond Christmas Day further rain or showers and strong winds are likely for many, and again any sleet and snow will be mainly over the hills of Scotland, as is often the case in December. Further details will be available closer to the time.’

Towards the New Year, conditions are expected to remain unsettled with low pressure bringing breezy and wet conditions for many, although there will be drier and brighter interludes.

It comes as the Police Service of Northern Ireland warned people on the roads to be aware of the potential for falling trees and debris today.

A statement said: ‘Road users are advised of potential traffic disruption this morning, caused by fallen trees and debris in some areas across Northern Ireland.

‘Officers have been assisting with traffic control whilst local roads are being cleared of any obstructions, and we thank you for your patience as we continue to do so.’

TransPennine Express said there will be speed restrictions in place from the early hours for trains running to and from Edinburgh and that it will not run services between the city and north-west England until this afternoon.

Kathryn O’Brien, customer experience and operations director for TPE, said: ‘Our number one priority is to keep our customers and colleagues safe, and we will be doing all we can to keep people moving in difficult conditions.

‘We are urging anyone travelling across the affected routes to plan ahead, allow extra time, check their journey up until the last minute, and follow the guidance provided.’

The AA has predicted that tomorrow and Saturday will be the busiest days on the UK’s roads

The RAC said 13.5 million leisure journeys by car are expected between tomorrow and Sunday

The AA issued this route planner map for the ‘amber traffic warning’ on December 22 and 23

Elsewhere on the trains, Network Rail said many services will only run once safety inspections have taken place, leading to some cancellations.

READ MORE Full list of travel disruptions over Christmas with Tubes, Elizabeth line, King’s Cross and Paddington stations all closed

The West Highland line, Kyle of Lochalsh line, and the Far North line, along with Inverness-Inverurie services, will all be subject to inspections before trains can run, and speed restrictions will also be in place in the central belt and the south of Scotland.

Travellers have been warned of ‘short notice changes to journeys’ on ScotRail services and are advised to check ahead, while additional engineers will be deployed to deal with any incidents.

Stephen Dixon, a Met Office spokesman, said: ‘It is quite a wide wind warning area. Gusts are forecast quite widely to be 45mph to 55mph, possibly 65mph to 70mph to the east of high ground in Scotland.

‘The strongest winds are likely to be found in the north and north-east of Scotland, including the Northern Isles, with 70mph to 80mph in the morning.’

On the roads, festive getaway traffic is expected to peak earlier than normal this year as Christmas Day falls on a Monday.

The AA predicted that tomorrow and Saturday will be the busiest days on the UK’s roads in the festive period.

Christmas Eve is traditionally the main day for getaway journeys, but this year many people are taking advantage of a weekend immediately preceding Christmas Day to make trips to friends and family.

The AA estimated that 16.1 million car journeys will take place on tomorrow and 16.4 million on Saturday.

It issued an ‘amber traffic warning’ for those days as it warned of ‘lengthy jams’.

The M25, the M5 between Bristol and Weston-Super-Mare and the M6 around Birmingham were identified as motorway stretches where bumper-to-bumper conditions are likely.

Other potential hotspots include stretches of the M1 from Luton northwards, the M62 and M60 in the North West and the M4 which connects London with South Wales.

AA president Edmund King urged drivers to pack essentials such as water, high-protein food or chocolate, warm clothes and a hi-vis jacket in case they get stranded.

To avoid the chances of a breakdown, Mr King recommended people carry out vehicle checks before setting off, such as on tyres, fuel, oil, coolant and screenwash.

He said: ‘While Friday and Saturday look set to be the busiest travelling days, the unsettled weather forecast could lead to additional delays so drivers should drive to the conditions and slow down where necessary.

‘New Year’s Day will be the quietest day on the roads which is probably a good thing especially if drivers have been partying the previous evening.

‘Drivers can still be breathalysed and lose their licence for driving over the limit the morning after.’

Meanwhile the RAC warmed of daily delays with UK drivers expected to make 21 million leisure trips between Monday of this week and Christmas Eve.

The organisation said getaway traffic will climb slowly at the start of this week before jumping from 2.2million trips tomorrow to 3.2 million tomorrow, the last working day before Christmas Day.

Some 13.5 million leisure journeys by car are expected between tomorrow and Christmas Eve, up 20 per cent on the equivalent period last year.

Congestion is likely to peak tomorrow as drivers embarking on getaway trips compete for road space with commuters and business traffic.

Transport analysis company Inrix warned there are likely to be ‘daily delays of around 40 minutes’ between tomorrow and Christmas Eve on the M25 clockwise west of London.

It predicted the worst queues on the motorway network will be on the M25 clockwise between junction 7 (for the M23/Gatwick airport) and junction 16 (for the M40/Birmingham) tomorrow.

Drivers heading anti-clockwise between junction 17 (Rickmansworth) and junction 12 (for the M3) on the same day are also being warned to prepare for hold-ups.

Other motorway stretches identified as potential hotspots include the M1 north from Woburn, Bedfordshire to Daventry, Northamptonshire and the M6 south from Wigan, Greater Manchester to Stafford, Staffordshire.

During the weekend before Christmas, between 12pm and 2pm is expected to be the busiest time to travel on the roads.

Drivers are advised to set out before 11am or after 6pm to reduce the chance of being stuck in long queues.

National Highways said it will remove more than 1,000 miles of roadworks on England’s motorways and major A roads by 6am on Tuesday.

That means more than 98 per cent of its network will be free of roadworks until January 2.

It’s beginning to look a lot like a white Christmas – technically 


Anyone who has gambled on the chances of a white Christmas this year might be in for a flurry of good luck.

But any wintry weather on December 25 is set to be restricted to Scottish mountains and the highest Pennine hills, forecasters said.

The Met Office said a ‘technical white Christmas’ – where a snowflake falls somewhere in the British Isles – is ‘very likely’.

But the closest most places in England and Wales are likely to come to wintry weather is a frosty morning – which could extend as far south as the Midlands.

Wet and windy weather is also expected in the days before, including Storm Pia today.

Grahame Madge, spokesman for the Met Office, said: ‘It’s very likely to be a technical white Christmas.

‘It’s possible we could see snowfall in the north and west of Scotland, which could reach lower levels, and there is a possibility of snow further south.

‘But the farther you get from the Scottish Highlands, the more remote the possibility. Within England, the only likely possibility is on the tops of the northern Pennines.’

But Mr Madge said ‘cool air’ likely to be extending over the country on Christmas Day could still mean a frosty morning further south: ‘The question is how far south that cold air will reach.’

He added that there is a ‘possibility’ it could be as far south as the Midlands, leaving the south and south-west of the country with milder conditions.

RAC spokeswoman Alice Simpson said: ‘Since Christmas falls on a Monday this year, there’s no need for drivers to use annual leave for getaway trips as they can travel over the weekend before.

‘For that very reason, our research suggests these days will be the busiest times to drive, so we urge people to set off as early as possible on Saturday and Sunday.’

She advised drivers to carry out vehicle checks before setting off, such as on tyres, fuel, oil, coolant and screenwash.

Inrix transportation analyst Bob Pishue said: ‘Our recommendation is to avoid peak commuting hours and use traffic apps to minimise holiday travel traffic frustrations.’

Rail services will also be disrupted over the festive period due to Network Rail carrying out engineering work.

London Paddington will be closed between Christmas Eve and Wednesday December 27, meaning no mainline trains will serve Heathrow Airport during that period.

Long-distance services will start and end at Reading, with connecting trains to and from Ealing Broadway or London Waterloo.

The most-booked intercity train over the festive period is believed to be the Great Western Railway service from London Paddington to Penzance at 10.03am on Saturday, reported the Independent.

London King’s Cross will be closed on Christmas Eve.

Southeastern services that usually operate to or from London Victoria will be diverted to Blackfriars, Charing Cross and Cannon Street between December 23 and New Year’s Day.

Outside of the capital, an engineering project near Southampton will see some disruption to services, as will work to build the new Cambridge South station.

No trains will operate on Christmas Day, with a very limited service running on Boxing Day.

Lawrence Bowman, network strategy director for Network Rail, said: ‘We understand how important this time of year is for our passengers for reconnecting with family and friends.

‘With more than 96 per cent of the network open for business as usual, we have tried as far as possible to design our investment projects around our passengers and keep disruption to a minimum.

Prices for the cheapest possible ticket available across the six trips analysed by rail and plane 

‘We are carrying out some significant projects, not as many as past years, but still some £127million of investment ranging from laying new track, installing new bridges and making improvements to stations so that passengers can benefit from better and more reliable services and facilities.

READ MORE Train pain for Christmas travellers as it is revealed rail fares are up to EIGHT times more expensive than flying to Europe over the festive period – check to see how much YOUR travel will cost

‘We plan our Christmas engineering programmes months- and in some cases years, in advance and target the quietest times, overnight, weekends and Christmas Day and Boxing Day to ensure we keep what disruption there is to an absolute minimum and will always looks to use diversions rather than put people on buses.

‘But some routes will see disruption as we upgrade the railway, so it’s important that passengers check their journeys before travelling.’

Airports will be busy with many people heading overseas for festive holidays or arriving in the UK to spend Christmas with loved ones.

Heathrow Airport expects 6.5million passengers will travel through its terminals this month, with tens of thousands departing on Christmas Day.

The airport will be as busy as a peak day in summer on the last Friday before Christmas – dubbed ‘Flyaway Friday’, according to the Independent.

That day is also expected to see pressure on Aberdeen, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool airports, with passengers warned over long queues for security.

East Midlands, London Stansted and Manchester airports are set to be busiest on Saturday.

Meanwhile National Express coaches are most in demand on Saturday, while rival operators Flixbus and Megabus say they are equally busy tomorrow and on Saturday.

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