THE HIGHEST overnight fall of snow for 10 years brought chaos to the Scottish Highlands yesterday leaving 8,000 homes without electricity, 60 schools closed and road, rail and air routes disrupted.
The Highlands' capital, Inverness, was cut off at one time with rail routes blocked, its airport closed and roads left impassable.
With 17 inches of wet snow and weather forecasters predicting an immediate thaw, there was considerable worry last night that extensive flooding may follow.
Scottish Hydro-electric said that the worst hit areas had been around Inverness, the Black Isle peninsula, Aberlour, Aviemore and Kingussie. A fleet of three helicopters was used by engineers to check power lines.
Highland Region, responsible for most of the Highlands' roads, denied they had been caught out. However, as conditions worsened on Tuesday night, lorry drivers on the main road between Perth and Inverness were forced to abandon their vehicles.
Similar travel chaos hit the main Inverness-Aberdeen route and the A82 between Inverness and Fort William. British Rail reported that fallen trees had blocked routes to Inverness.
But the snow was welcomed by the winter sports industry as a hopeful sign of a good season to come. Last year, when virtually no snow fell, was disastrous for the local economy in Aviemore and Speyside, Scotland's ski centre.
Tim Whittome, deputy general manager of the Cairngorm Chairlift Company, which runs the ski lifts above Aviemore, said: 'We've had three poor snow winters out of the last four. No decent snow this year could kill this industry.'