Forecasters say gales are set to hit the south as a ‘weather bomb’ hits Britain.
The Met office says tomorrow heavy rain and strong winds or gales are expected overnight, with perhaps severe gales along coasts.
And weathermen say that there is the potential for gales, severe along some coasts, and accompanied by heavy rain, to spread across southern areas of England and Wales during the early hours of Friday, before easing during the morning. A Met Office spokesman said: ‘Gusts may reach 50 to 60 mph inland and perhaps around 70 mph in some exposed coastal districts.
‘The public should be aware of the risk of damage to trees, disruption to travel and possibly to power supplies.’
Stormy weather is already causing disruption across parts of the UK - including northern England - with power cuts, ferry and train cancellations and difficult driving conditions.
The Met Office has issued an amber ‘’be prepared’’ warning for the west coast of Scotland, the Highlands and Islands, Orkney, Shetland and Northern Ireland as a so-called “weather bomb” batters the country.
A gust of 81mph was recorded in Tiree at 10am while South Uist was hit by a 79mph gust at 9am and Islay by a 77mph wind at 5am, according to the Met Office.
Winds of around 50mph have been recorded in north-west England and North Wales, where yellow “be aware” warnings are in place.
The whole of the Western Isles was left without power after an outage just before 7am.
Scottish Hydro Electric Power Distribution said its engineers were working to restore supplies to the 17,500 customers affected.
Elsewhere, a rescue operation was launched to help a fishing vessel which issued a Mayday call at around 5.30am after it was hit by a wave that smashed windows on the bridge.
The Shetland Coastguard rescue helicopter and Stromness Lifeboat were sent to the scene off Orkney.
The lifeboat is escorting the British-registered vessel, which has a Spanish crew, to Westray in Orkney. None of the 16 crew are thought to be injured.
In Aberdeenshire around 20 cars were freed after they were stuck in icy conditions at Cairn O’Mount, while the Forth Road Bridge was closed to high-sided vehicles and the Tay Bridge was only open to cars.
Steve Willington, chief meteorologist at the Met Office, said: “Very strong winds are likely to affect northern and central parts of the UK from early Wednesday and last through until early Thursday as a very deep low pressure system moves slowly eastwards between Scotland and Iceland.
“A period of severe gales is likely over northern and central Britain, as well as the potential for storm force winds over north-western coastal areas of Scotland.”
The process behind the storm - rapid cyclogenesis - is known colloquially as a weather bomb.
Fifteen flood warnings and 12 flood alerts have been issued by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).
Many ferry services operated by Caledonian MacBrayne, which operates in the west of Scotland, have been cancelled or disrupted while the Argyll Ferries service between Gourock and Dunoon has been suspended.
There were also disruptions and cancellations on NorthLink Ferries services between Orkney, Shetland and the mainland, while P&O said its Larne and Cairnryan sailings were operating with delays of up to at least two hours, with disruption expected throughout the day.
Several train services will be cancelled as a safety precaution, Network Rail and train operator ScotRail announced.
Western Isles Council said all its schools and nurseries will be closed as police have advised the public not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary. All depots, libraries, museums and sports facilities in the Western Isles are also shut.
Several schools and nurseries in the Highland Council area have been closed.
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney told BBC Radio Scotland: “It is important to keep this in context. It’s not a surprise that Scotland faces severe winter weather, we face it to a greater or lesser extent every year. This morning we’re wrestling with a number of different issues.”
He added: “I think it’s important to remember that this is weather which is characteristic of winter weather in Scotland and what’s important is that we take the necessary steps to prepare for it.
“That involves the public authorities preparing for it but also members of the public being aware of the circumstances as well.”
Councils south of the border insisted they are prepared for the plunge in temperatures, with gritters ‘’out in force’’ and depots filled with about 1.3 million tonnes of salt.