By Andrea McCallum
SCOTS travellers are being warned to beware of plunging temperatures and travel chaos as heavy snow hits this weekend – with forecasters issuing early weather warnings for much of the country.
The Met Office also issued an early warning of “severe or extreme” weather to affect many parts of Scotland.
Today (thurs) its website predicted risk of disruption across south-west Scotland, Lothian and Borders and Dumfries and Galloway by Sunday.
It warned heavy snow – between five and 10 centimetres – could also affect north and north west Scotland over the same period.
Bookies Ladbrokes have already cut odds of a white Christmas in Glasgow down to 2/1 and Aberdeen 11/8.
Up to eight inches were expected to fall on London and the South East overnight.
But sub-zero temperatures down to minus 10 and heavy snow falls are also expected to hit Scotland with a vengeance by the weekend.
The snow alert for the festive break was expected to only add to the building misery for thousands of Christmas travellers.
Proposed strike action by BA Cabin staff, the collapses of Flyglobespan and planned rail works along with the winter weather means commuters are now being warned to plan for the worst.
Last night forecasters said the country faced some of the coldest nights of the year this weekend, just as many break for the holidays.
Temperatures are not expected to rise above freezing with raw winds making it feel even colder.
A spokeswoman for the MET office said icy roads would be the biggest problem facing Scotland over the coming days.
She said: “This has been the most prolonged spell of cold weather this year, probably since about February, and we can expect some snow over the next few days.
“We could well end up with a covering of snow over the weekend but at the moment the indication is that frost is going to be a major problem.
“Icy roads could be the biggest problem.”
BEAR Scotland – who manage and maintain trunk roads – said it expects more than 30,000 tonnes of pre-wetted salt to be used this winter.
Brian Gordon, operations director, added: “We continue to ask motorists to be responsible and think carefully about whether their journey is absolutely necessary, especially in severe weather conditions.”
The RAC suggest motorists pack extra warm clothing and sensible shoes, take a hot drink and something to eat on potentially hazardous journeys this weekend.
A spokesman said: “Plan journeys in advance and listen to the local radio for details of blocked roads – also keep to the main roads as they are more likely to be gritted and will be patrolled by police.”
Scots councils and road agencies were heavily criticised last year when the extreme cold snap meant they had to ferry in emergency supplies of rock salt and grit from abroad.
The shocking unexpected weather forced councils to cut back on road gritting due to national salt shortages – in Renfrewshire only main roads were salted until supplies were found.
Salt was shipped from Tunisia, Italy, Spain and Germany – at sky high prices – to boost dwindling supplies.
At one point even old table salt was used to plug the gap.
Now this year all councils have put their necks on the line saying they are well prepared.
Councils across the country have had between 500 -1,000 tonnes of salt delivered this week to bring their stocks up to maximum capacity.
Argyll and Bute Council said that in ‘hard freeze’ conditions, the area would go through a maximum of 300 tonnes of salt a day – with just over 9,000 tonnes in stock.
And Clackmannanshire claim it has “more than enough” to see it through the “harshest winter”.
Away from the roads, rail operators said that their customers will see more trains and less disruption over the holiday period, compared to previous years.
Track improvements and maintenance are scheduled for New Year’s Eve between Inverness and Edinburgh, Dundee and Edinburgh, and Inverkeithing and Edinburgh, with buses replacing trains.
Network Rail said engineering work affecting services has been cut back and rearranged as far as possible.
Despite all this, staff advised planning journeys and making seat reservations.
Yesterday it was announced that BA Cabins staff would strike for 12 days over the Christmas period sending millions of traveller’s festive plans into chaos.
And both air and rail companies are already feeling the effects of the walk-out with some airfares tripling in price overnight.
A ScotRail spokesman said: “We are already seeing an increase in demand for our cross border Caledonian Sleeper services over the threatened strike period.
“However, there is still availability and we would urge people to book as soon as possible if they want to travel with us between London and Scotland over the holiday period.”