Residents throughout Cheshire are risking life and limb as they make their way home tonight in winds of between 80-100 mph.
Earlier today (Wednesday, February 12) forecasters issued a red wind warning covering the North West region.
Although Cheshire is officially covered by an amber warning, the Met Office has issued a red alert for the North West and Wales, which means Cheshire residents should ‘take action’ as exceptionally strong winds hit the region.
The Met Office warned members of the public to ‘alter their travel arrangements during this spell of storm force winds’.
Winds reaching 80mph are expected but could possibly reach 100mph in the most exposed locations.
Among the incidents so far reported are:
- Trees down on the A41 in Vicars Cross, Wervin Road in Wervin, Forest Street in Weaverham, Chester Lane in Winsford and Ashton Road in Delamere.
- A tree has come down on the A56 at Hoole causing a light to catch fire in the treatment room of a doctor's surgery.
- The designer outlet at Cheshire Oaks has been closed for the evening for safety reasons due to the storm.
- Chronicle staff driving home along Bumper's Lane near Chester FC Swansway Stadium were brought to a sudden halt when a tree was brought down right in front of them.
- The tree blown down on the A41 at Vicars Cross is blocking one lane and causing traffic queues.
- Slates blown off roofs along Overleigh Road and a tree has fallen at Overleigh Cemetery close to the roundabout.
- Multiple police cars are dealing with a tree that looks to have crashed through a hedge on to the A56 at Mickle Trafford.
- Reports of A548 Sealand Road partially blocked causing queueing traffic due to fallen tree between Western Avenue and Ferry Lane.
- Police van has shut off Primrose Lane in Helsby due to fallen tree.
- Crewe Railway Station was evacuated and closed after high winds blew part of the roof off and brought power lines down. The station reopened at about 7.15pm.
- All Merseyrail services between Chester, Ellesmere Port and Liverpool suspended due to reported tree on the line at Bebington.
- Lines are blocked between Wrexham General & Bidston because of an obstruction on the line - buses on order.
- Scottish Power say 45,000 homes in North and Mid Wales are now without power.
- The A5117 is closed at Backford due to a fallen tree and motorists are warned to avoid the area.
Cheshire Constabulary have just issued a statement saying the winds battering Cheshire are expected to peak within the next hour.
Police are experiencing an exceptionally high level of demand as people ring 999 to report weather related incidents. Police advice remains the same - only ring 999 if it is a genuine emergency - otherwise you may be blocking a line for someone who really needs urgent help.
An emergency is defined as an incident where there is potential for harm, or a threat to life, a crime in progress, or where an urgent police response is required.
All non emergency calls should be made using the 101 number.
Superintendent Beverley Raistrick is in charge of the police response. She said: "The demand on the police 999 service is unusually high. We have brought in extra operators, retained staff on duty, and brought further call takers in to work early. However, such is the demand on the 999 system, that we cannot always answer the calls as fast as we normally would, but all calls will be answered.
"As we hit the crucial time for Cheshire in terms of peak wind speeds, I would urge the public to only ring 999 in a genuine emergency, so that we can get our officers to those who really need an urgent police response. Extra officers have been retained on duty to help us respond to the demand.
"You can help us to keep you safe too - if you do not have an essential journey to make in the next few hours, stay indoors. If you really do have to travel, make sure you let someone know when you leave, and when you are due to arrive, and take a charged mobile phone with you to keep your loved ones informed if you are delayed.
"Thankfully, we have no reports in Cheshire of anyone injured or harmed as a result of the gale force winds - let's work together to keep it that way."
Regular updates on road closures and diversions are available from the Highways agency website and tweets, and from local traffic bulletins. The advice to motorists for the next few hours remains the same - stay indoors unless your journey is essential.
Drivers in Cheshire are being advised that the M6 is totally closed in both directions between junction 19 at Knutsford and junction 21a at Croft Interchange.
This is due to continuing gale force winds with cross winds along Thelwall Viaduct as a forecast storm arrives in the North West. Wind gauges along the two bridges have registered speeds of between 64mph and 74mph since 3.30pm this afternoon with the story set to last possibly until midnight before winds start to slowly subside according to Met Office forecasters.
Drivers using the M6 are being advised that a strategic diversion is in place between junction 19 and junction 21a - with northbound drivers leaving the M6 at junction 19 at Knutsford and rejoining the M6 at Croft Interchange via the northbound A556, M56 (eastbound), clockwise M60 and westbound M62. Southbound drivers will be directed to use the same diversion in reverse.
Officers from Cheshire Police, Highways Agency traffic officers and Highways Agency contractors operated a managed closure of the motorway so that no drivers were trapped on the carriageway before it was closed between the two junctions.
The carriageways closed at around 4.30pm and will not re-open again until wind speeds drop.
Drivers are urged to check travel conditions before setting out on journeys and consider whether they really need to travel with gale force winds forecast to continue beyond this evening's peak travel period and up to midnight this evening. There is a possibility of other carriageway closures.
The Highways Agency provides live traffic information via its website www.highways.gov.uk/traffic, local and national radio travel bulletins, electronic road signs and mobile platforms, such as the iPhone. Local Twitter services are also available at @HAtraffic_nwest and @HAtraffic_pen9 for transpennine routes.
Providing they can do so safely, road users can also call the Highways Agency Information Line (0300 123 5000) to keep up to date with road conditions.
Earlier today, a Met Office spokesman said: “Winds of this strength can cause widespread structural damage, bringing down trees and also leading to loss of power supplies. In addition, large waves are likely to affect some coasts.”
The alert is for 1.30pm today until 9pm.
A statement from Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “High winds have been forecast in a severe weather warning for Cheshire - please take extra care on the roads and read our safety advice.
“Drivers should be extra careful when driving on exposed routes such as bridges or high open roads and are encouraged to find alternative routes where possible.
“We advise drivers to slow down and be aware of side winds and be particularly conscious of the dangers posed by debris that may have blown into the roadway.
“As wind speed increases the pressure it exerts on your car increases too. Wind rarely blows steadily, and sudden gusts can catch-out even the most experienced driver. Expect sudden gusts at any time but particularly on open stretches of road, when passing bridges or gaps in hedges or when overtaking high-sided vehicles.”
On the Met Office website, the following red warning was issued: "During this afternoon a swathe of exceptionally strong winds is expected to affect western parts of Wales and then some north western parts of England this evening, particularly in coastal areas.
"Winds are expected to gust 80mph and possibly reach 100mph in the most exposed locations."