THERE was one message for Scotland’s most populated areas as the weather front dubbed the “beast from the east” took hold – stay indoors.

Police, government and weather experts urged workplaces to close early as they warned the public that extreme conditions covering everywhere from Fife to the Borders could cost lives.

The Met Office issued its first ever red warning for Scotland, with an amber alert sounded over less severe conditions in many other regions.

Flights were disrupted, trains and buses cancelled and schools and universities closed.

And as night fell, motorists were left stranded on trunk roads in the central belt as the snow continued to come down with driving conditions treacherous.
Even Edinburgh Castle had locked its doors as Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said: “This is the first red warning that has been issued for snow under the current system which means that conditions in affected areas will be extremely treacherous.

“I would urge people to follow police advice and avoid travel in those areas affected by the red and amber warnings. We recognise it will have an impact on people travelling to and from work over the next 24 hours and so I would encourage employers to be as flexible as possible with their staff.

“If you need to travel, your journey is likely to be disrupted and in many instances there may be cancellations, there is the possibility you could be stranded and this could interfere with emergency services and those clearing the roads.”

The red warning is expected to last until 10am today. Deputy First Minister John Swinney yesterday chaired a meeting of the Scottish Government’s Resilience Room as Holyrood worked with local authorities on preparations and provisions for services.

However, tens of thousands of schoolchildren were given the day off as education bosses across the country ruled classes must be cancelled. By midafternoon, many local authorities had already decided that the suspension would run into a second day.

They include Perth and Kinross, West Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Meanwhile, Glasgow School of Art closed its campuses in the city and the Highlands, with learning disrupted at similar institutions.

Scots had been warned that the arrival of the freezing conditions could bring up to 15 inches of snow and see the mercury drop to -15C as a result of wind chill.

The Scottish Government said some rural communities could find themselves cut off “for several days”, with “long interruptions” to power supplies and communications possible as a result of the frequent and heavy snow showers.

The weather front hit the UK after blowing over mainland Europe, where it was variously dubbed the “Siberian bear” in Holland and the “snow cannon” in Sweden. Rome was blanketed with snow and in some parts temperatures fell to -30C. At least 10 people were understood to have died as a result, including rough sleepers.

Homelessness organisations in Scotland, including Glasgow City Mission and Edinburgh’s Streetwork, used social media yesterday to urge the public to help them assist anyone left in the cold.

Outreach teams were on the streets following up on calls about individuals without shelter.

Meanwhile, BBC meteorologist Phil Avery cautioned those in the red zone: “It’s life-threatening stuff out there.

“Temperatures really struggling today, add in the strength of the wind – the middle part of the week was always going to be really brutal.

“Please bear all that in mind if you think you’re going to step outside your door.”

Yousaf said more gritters were running than ever before, while Chief Superintendent Stewart Carle, head of the country’s Road Policing, said the single force had dealt with “literally hundreds of incidents on the roads” overnight and into yesterday morning.

Stranded vehicles, including HGVs, prompted some road closures. In one instance, the busy M80 was down to one lane at Junction 7 after as a result of a jack-knifed lorry.

Carle said: “We can’t stress enough that all travel should be avoided unless it’s essential, being absolutely necessary and extremely important. Employers and public services need to carefully consider how that criteria meets their urgent business needs.

“The warning covers the commuter periods both this evening and tomorrow morning, and so we would ask people to think very carefully about making alternative arrangements for these times and to consider whether they really need to make that journey, particularly on the road network which may become overwhelmed as people leave work early to beat the storm.”

NHS 24 medical director Dr Laura Ryan advises people to keep warm and stay indoors and ScotRail, which had attempted to keep trains moving in the worst affected areas, announced there would be no services in the red zone until “at least” late morning today. Bus provider First also suspended services in the Glasgow area from 4pm, while travellers faced delays and cancellations from the country’s airports.

Meanwhile, Highland Council revealed “a combination of the weather conditions experienced and the timing of the most severe episodes” would mean it will likely end the year with a £2 million overspend in its winter maintenance budget.