Scotland braces itself for Storm Eunice amid official Yellow Alert for snow from the Met Office
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The Met Office has issued a yellow warning for snow covering much of mainland Scotland. It comes into force at 3am on Friday and is due to lift at 6pm.
The alert prompted a string of safety warnings for road and rail users and outdoors enthusiasts with Scots urged to only venture out if necessary at the height of snowstorms.
Mountaineering Scotland advised those who planned heading to the hills to ensure they have the skills to cope with the conditions and are properly equipped.
Mountain bikers and others who enjoy forest trails have also been cautioned to be wary of trees – already weakened by successive storms – succumbing to the weight of snow, or strong winds, and falling across pathways.
Specialist mountain weather forecasts are predicting sustained periods of gales or even hurricane-force winds on higher terrain for the next week. Snow, rain and hail will be experienced most days, often heavy and sometimes snowing to low levels and drifting significantly in the mountains.
Mountaineering Scotland’s Mountain Safety Advisor Ben Gibson said: “With such extreme weather being forecast it’s important to plan your journeys around conditions rather than just going for long-held ambitions.
“Check the specialist mountain forecasts and what the Scottish Avalanche Information Service says, and take an honest look at your fitness and skill levels – and those of the others in your party – and consider whether your planned route is really attainable or whether you should adapt it or make different plans altogether.”
Vice Chair of Scottish Mountain Rescue, Kev Mitchell, said: “The weekend forecast is for very unsettled and, at times, dangerous conditions. With the arrival of Storm Eunice on Friday, hills will see high winds and the potential for snowfall to low levels meaning the avalanche forecast will be likely to worsen.
“Good decision making is key in these situations and often the decision not to go, whilst correct, is the hardest one to make."
Snowsport Scotland reminded ski tourers to pay attention to the conditions and be wary of avalanche risk and getting lost in whiteouts.
It is feared that some exposed coastal areas could see winds as strong as 95mph, while inland areas are forecast to experience 80mph winds.
People can expect some travel delays both on the roads and the railways and there is a possibility of some power cuts across the country.
Meteorologists anticipate up to 20cm of snow could accumulate over high ground, with up to 5cm possible in some lower areas.
The Met Office warned that blizzard conditions can be expected alongside the snowfall, due to the winds being so high.
Overnight from Thursday into Friday it is expected to be dry but cloudy across much of Scotland with sleet forecast to start falling at around 6am.
This will continue throughout the morning and will turn to heavy snow at around midday.
The rest of the day is expected to be cold and windy with widespread sleet continuing.
Throughout the afternoon it is forecast to gradually turn drier but strong northeasterly winds are expected with a maximum temperature of just 2 C.
"Storm Eunice is expected to track eastwards from early on Friday, bringing the most significant winds to the central and southern areas of the UK, with some gusts possible in excess of 95mph in exposed coastal areas," said Met Office Chief Meteorologist Frank Saunders.
Meanwhile, ScotRail has defended its decision to close Scotland's rail network during Storm Dudley.
All services stopped at 4pm on Wednesday after the Met Office issued an amber warning for wind.
A Scotrail spokesman said the damage caused by the extreme weather would have caused severe disruption.
There are no plans to close the network in Scotland for Storm Eunice.
Previous storms have left passengers trapped on trains for many hours. In November travellers from Elgin to Aberdeen were stuck on board for 17 hours during Storm Arwen.
Looking towards the weekend the Met Office has predicted Saturday will be mainly dry and bright with light winds, while Sunday will start off wet and clear and turn to just a few blustery showers. At the moment Monday is forecast to be windy by dry.
More than 1,500 miles (2,414km) of track was checked before the rail timetable returned mostly to normal on Thursday morning.
Trees were cleared from tracks and damage to overhead lines repaired.
Damage to signalling systems at Lanark, Largs and Girvan continued throughout the day.
On Thursday afternoon overhead electric wires between Motherwell and Lockerbie were hit by a tree, blocking trains travelling between Scotland and England.
Avanti West Coast passengers, who were previously advised to travel on Thursday or Saturday to avoid the severe weather England is expecting on Friday, have been advised to "abandon travel".
Extra snow ploughs and engineers have been drafted in for the railway to deal with Storm Eunice across Scotland without major cancellations on Friday.
A Network Rail spokesman said: "The weather warning for tomorrow is likely to be more serve further south in England and Wales. We'll be getting significant snow, but are likely to miss the worst of the winds.
"We'll have extra engineers and snow ploughs etc ready but are looking to run the majority of services as planned.
"Passengers should still check before they travel, especially if they are planning to use cross-border trains."
Road maintenance provider Bear Scotland said it had gritting trucks out in north east Scotland, where there has already been snowfall, and would be working round the clock to ensure routes remained safe.
They asked drivers to "drive to conditions" on affected roads.
The Scottish government has also urged people to exercise caution and follow the latest travel advice.