Britain takes gale-force battering

Strong winds are expected to ease off today after gales battered much of Britain and saw two people killed when trees fell on their cars.

Forecasters issued a severe weather warning as gusts of up to 114mph tore through the Scottish Highlands yesterday, while unseasonably strong winds also swept across Northern Ireland and parts of northern England.

Britons were warned to batten down the hatches amid fears of falling roof tiles, cracking branches and damaged power lines.

But weather chiefs said the winds "reduced significantly" overnight and, while still expected to be blustery in much of Scotland and the north of England, would be calmer today.

Northumbria Police said an 18-year-old woman from Hexham was killed when a tree fell on the Renault Clio she was driving in Corchester Lane, Corbridge yesterday afternoon.

Fire and ambulance crews were sent to the scene, where the woman in the vehicle was pronounced dead at the scene, a police spokeswoman said.

Officers are appealing for witnesses to the accident to come forward.

In Scotland, a 36-year-old man was driving in Mollanbowie Road in Balloch, West Dunbartonshire, when a tree came down on his vehicle at around 3pm yesterday.

Firefighters spent several hours trying to free him but he was also pronounced dead at the scene.

A spokeswoman for Strathclyde Police said: "I can confirm a 36-year-old man has died as a result of a fallen tree."

A passenger train was hit by a falling tree in high winds near Belfast and some ferry services were halted, including crossings between the Northern Irish city and Stranraer and Cairnryan in Scotland.

Nobody was hurt in the incident on the line near Cultra, Co Down, but the driver of the train, which had been on its way from Bangor, was treated for shock.

This followed a weekend of blustery weather in which three children were taken to hospital after an inflatable slide toppled over at a garden show in Kent and coastguards rescued crew on board two yachts near Scarborough in North Yorkshire.

But MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, predicted a calmer day ahead.

Forecaster Victoria Kettley said: "Winds decreased significantly overnight, but they will pick up again today.

"We are looking at gusts across Scotland of 50 to 55mph for most places, getting up to 60mph locally.

"This won't help efforts to clear trees because it still is quite blustery.

"It was really bad yesterday but that depression has cleared north. Winds will still be brisk today but it has cleared quite a bit already.

"North England will see some strong gusts today, of 40 to 50mph, which will ease in the afternoon."

The real gales did not get going until Sunday night, picking up speed yesterday afternoon, according to MeteoGroup.

Scotland's Cairngorm summit, Cairnwell summit and Aonach Mor were hit by gusts of 114mph, while 100mph winds tore through Glen Ogle in Stirlingshire.

The unusually windy weather has been caused by an unseasonably deep area of low pressure that passed close to north-west Scotland, MeteoGroup said.

Forecast manager Michael Dukes said: "The high winds that have been battering Scotland, Ireland and the far north of England today are about as strong as you ever get in late May.

"These wind speeds would be noteworthy in midwinter, but for them to occur in late spring is really most unusual.

"Indeed, with trees in full leaf, winds of this strength can cause a great deal of problems as trees can be more readily toppled."

Gusts of up to 65mph ripped through parts of England, with Fylingdales in Yorkshire recording wind speeds of 63mph, MeteoGroup forecaster Gemma Plumb said.

The south of England has been less windy but was still hit by gusts of up to 45mph, while parts of north west Wales recorded wind speeds of up to 65mph.

Meanwhile, water companies have been considering plans to impose seasonal tariffs on their customers.

This could see households paying higher bills in summer if their water use increases sharply as they keep lawns irrigated and fill paddling pools.

Water regulator Ofwat said Veolia Water Central, which serves parts of southern England, and South East Water were trialling such a system, while Wessex Water said it had rejected the idea after researching it.

An Ofwat spokeswoman said issues such as climate change and population growth "require long-term solutions" but that it would not approve a tariff "that would result in a rise in a company's revenue".

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