The Met Office said gusts of 80mph swept across the Atlantic yesterday to Scotland, Wales and western England, and predicted that stronger winds would strike southern England today.
A spokesman said that force 10 storm winds were expected inland, with force 11 violent storm gusts likely to whip through the English Channel.
An 83-year-old woman was in a critical condition last night after being hit on the head by a large flower-stall parasol blown over by strong winds in Cardiff city centre, police said.
Meanwhile, a motorcyclist was killed in a road accident at the height of yesterday's gales on the Aberdeen to Peterhead road, and coastguards have called off the search for a Spanish trawlerman swept overboard off the west coast of Ireland.
Thousands of houses in Northern Ireland, Hampshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Orkney, Shetland and Invernesshire lost electricity supplies after gales brought down power lines. Floods struck Wales and the West Country, with firemen pumping storm water from homes in Llandidloes, Powys.
In Scotland, ferry services were devastated, with operator Caledonian- MacBrayne ordering vessels into safe harbours instead of risking crossings on the Clyde and to the Western Isles. Winds were also strong in the Irish Sea, with both P&O and Stena Line abandoning sailings to Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Streets in Bristol city centre were closed after gantries carrying Christmas lights blew across four lanes of traffic.
Birdlovers were searching for 40 rescued owls which were swept away by winds that wrecked their aviary at the Hawksrest Owl Sanctuary in Bawtry, Nottinghamshire. They had been hand-reared and couldn't fend for themselves, said a spokesman.
The old M48 Severn Crossing was closed, as was the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, Dartford. Motorcycles - with light and high-sided vehicles - were banned from the Forth Road Bridge, near Edinburgh.
Racing at Newbury and Uttoxeter was abandoned because of waterlogged courses, along with rugby and football ties, including non-league Cheltenham's FA Cup clash with Reading. Four other FA Cup games were cancelled because of wet pitches.Reuse content