Bridge closed as strong winds batter Britain

Britain was battered by strong winds and heavy rain today as storms broke over the country.

Wind speeds of more than 70mph have been recorded, with forecasters predicting the worst of the gales will hit northern England, north Wales, southern Scotland and Northern Ireland from around 6pm.

Strong cross winds around the Dartford crossing led to the closure of the QEII bridge for "safety reasons", a spokesman for the Highways Agency said.

"A contra-flow will be in operation using the tunnel bores and traffic from Kent travelling north towards Essex will use the west bore with traffic travelling in the opposite direction using the east bore of the tunnel," a spokesman said. "This reduction in capacity at the crossing may result in longer queues at the crossing during peak periods."

The Agency also urged drivers across the north west of England to check conditions before they take to the road.

Drivers of high-sided vehicles, caravans and motorbikes were meanwhile advised to take extra care when travelling due to the increased risk of vehicles being blown over.

John Hutchinson, from MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "It has been a windy morning.

"We've seen gusts in some areas get up to 60mph, mostly in coastal areas in the south and west.

"The winds gusted up to 76mph at Capel Curig in Snowdonia.

"We are still expecting really strong winds this evening.

"There have been showers and longer spells of rain, which has been pretty heavy in places, and there will be further rain this evening."

Although centred over Scotland, areas north of the border will escape the worst of the winds because it is "in the eye of the storm", according to forecasters.

After battering the UK, the winds will move out to the North Sea.

The gales follow similar bad weather earlier in the week which brought flooding to parts of southern England.

Police in Northamptonshire had to cordon off a bungalow after strong winds blew part of a tree on to it today.

A 50m cordon was put around the house in Vine Hill Close, Higham Ferrers and police evacuated houses within 50m of the bungalow, a force spokeswoman said.

She said: "Nobody has been injured but the fire service has called a tree surgeon to assess the possibility of the remainder of the tree falling down."