SWATHES OF Britain were hit by nearly 100mph winds and heavy rain as Storm Imogen battered southern parts of the country and left commuters braced for havoc on the transport networks.
The Met Office has issued amber warnings of wind for much of the south west yesterday, and a yellow warning stretching from southern Wales to the Thames Estuary as the storm sweeps in from the English Channel.
Gales and heavy rain have forced road closures and delays to rail services, with airports warning flights may be disrupted.
Almost 300 Environment Agency flood warnings are in place across the UK amid heavy downpours, with 59 warnings calling for “immediate action”, particularly in the south west and Wales where parts are expected to see up to more than 1.5ins (40mm) of rain during Monday.
Rail services in Wales, the south west and in southern areas are being disrupted due to strong winds, with speed restrictions and cancellations, the Severn Bridge was closed eastbound and restricted westbound because of strong winds and services from ferry companies Brittany and P&O are cancelled and delayed.
The Met Office has issued an amber “be prepared” wind warning for Wales, the south west, the south coast and London and south-east England, while coastal areas are expected to be lashed with large waves.
Forecaster Emma Sillitoe said the winds would be some of the worst so far this winter, not far off gusts of 105mph recorded last month in Shetland, Scotland.
She said: “We are looking to see gusts of 60-70mph quite widely, hitting the south west, Devon and Cornwall and moving across southern central parts towards London through the day. It is going to be picking up towards 70mph around lunchtime in London.
“We have seen 96mph at the Needles off the Isle of Wight and gusts to 80mph are likely, especially along northern coasts of Devon and Cornwall and along the Bristol Channel as well.”
Rail travellers were warned to expect disruption to journeys and urged to check before they travel, especially on coastal routes, with many services potentially delayed, altered or cancelled.
Speed restrictions at various times will be imposed on routes operated by Arriva Trains Wales, Great Western Railway, Southern, South West Trains, the Gatwick Express, Southeastern and Thameslink services until at least 5pm due to high winds, according to National Rail Enquiries.
Winds are expected to be “particularly strong” across the south of England from 11am, forcing speed restrictions.
Storm Imogen is expected to track eastwards along the south coast throughout Monday and threaten ferry services from the Port of Dover.
Extreme weather conditions late on Sunday forced the port to close for around two hours into Monday, disrupting services.
The authority tweeted: “Port of Dover is monitoring weather situation. Safety is primary concern and we apologise for any inconvenience to travellers.”
A Network Rail spokeswoman said inspections were ongoing although no damage or blockages on the network had been found.
Meanwhile those watching waves in coastal areas have been warned to keep a safe distance from seafronts, as 14m swells in the Channel are expected to create dramatic scenes.