Hurricane-force winds and rain have rocked Britain’s transport network, leading to the cancellation of trains, flights and ferries, and caused widespread flooding.
Storm Ciara brought heavy rain and winds of more than 80mph, rendering flying debris potentially lethal and leading to the cancellation of sporting events.
Communities in the north of England that have suffered the brunt of flooding in recent years were hit again. Sirens were sounded early on in the market towns of Todmorden and Hebden Bridge, where high street shops were under water within hours. Authorities issued more than 240 flood warnings.
A severe flood warning – meaning danger to life – was issued for Pateley Bridge in North Yorkshire, where the River Nidd was forecast to go over flood defences.
In the Calder valley, people told of cars being swept away and water engulfing defences that had been built up at a cost of tens of millions of pounds since flooding in Christmas 2015.
“When we got up this morning it was evidently flooding from eight to 9am but within an hour or two the river was about to breach its banks and abandoned cars were being swept away,” said Ben Myers, an author in the town of Mytholmroyd who has written about the impact of flooding.
“It’s really quite bad now and it looks certain that scores of businesses will have to shut here and in Hebden. So much was spent and so many promises were made in the past but it feels like there will have to be another rethink.”
Amanda Owen, a farmer and shepherd in Swaledale, at one of the highest and most remote hill farms in England, posted footage that showed a livestock trailer being swept along by what she described as “a flood of biblical proportions”.
A driver was rescued after their car became stuck in deep floodwater in Blackpool, where the emergency services said they had spent a busy night responding to incidents. In Perth, three people were injured after part of a pub roof collapsed on Saturday evening.
Elsewhere in Scotland, where 61 flood warnings and 15 flood alerts were in place, heavy rain resulted in flooding in the Whitesands area of Dumfries after the River Nith burst its banks.
Residents of the Lincolnshire town of Burgh le Marsh were alarmed when the top of a historic windmill blew off on Sunday, sending pieces over the roofs of nearby homes. An emergency alert had been issued earlier at Dobson’s Mill – a working tower windmill that also houses the town’s heritage centre – where high winds took hold of the sails.
At Heathrow, where plane spotters and others chronicled flights aborting landings and struggling to remain steady as they approached, airlines told the Guardian that pilots had experienced challenges.
The airport’s management said it had agreed with airlines to “consolidate” the flight schedule in an effort to minimise the number of cancelled flights.
British Airways was offering rebooking options for customers on domestic and European flights flying to and from Heathrow, Gatwick and London City, while Virgin Atlantic posted a list of cancelled flights on its website.
The storm had a different sort of impact on air traffic as it helped flights set records over the course of Saturday night by propelling aircraft across the Atlantic on the back of a jet stream. A BA Boeing 747 was believed to have set a new subsonic transatlantic flight record after it reached Heathrow in four hours and 56 minutes on Sunday morning. A Virgin Airlines flight operating on the same route made the crossing a little earlier in four hours and 58 minutes, according to the Flightradar24 tracking website.
BA said in a statement: “We always prioritise safety over speed records, but our highly trained pilots made the most of the conditions to get customers back to London well ahead of time.”
At least 10 rail companies sent out “do not travel” warnings, and nearly 20 others told passengers to expect delays as strong winds were expected to damage electrical wires and clutter train tracks with broken tree limbs and other debris.
Rail companies issuing warnings against travel included Gatwick Express, Great Northern, LNER, Northern, Southeastern, Southern, Thameslink, Grand Central Hull Trains and TransPennine Express. Avanti West Coast, which runs rail services between London and Scotland, took the decision not to run trains north of Preston.
On the roads, Bedfordshire fire service was involved in rescuing a driver who had been trapped for an hour after a tree fell on his car. The Humber Bridge near Hull in northern England restricted traffic due to the high winds, banning high-sided trucks and camper vehicles.
High waves in the Irish Sea forced ferry companies to cancel several trips, while conditions also caused the Pride of Hull, a P&O ferry arriving from Rotterdam, to turn back after attempting to dock in Hull. A scheduled arrival of 8am was pushed back to 3.30pm at the earliest.
The Met Office had put amber warnings in place for much of England and Wales on Sunday morning. It said the heaviest rain would be on high ground. As much as 50-70mm was expected widely, with 100mm in a few locations.
Alex Burkill, a meteorologist at the Met Office, said: “We’re taking some damage to property, flying debris, and that could bring the risk of injury to people, as well as just the usual things such as power outages and disruption to travel.
“It is worth bearing in mind that the strong winds on Sunday are going to be very widespread. It’s across the whole of the UK where we’re going to see very strong winds, so the impact will be widespread.”
Scotland’s transport secretary, Michael Matheson, said: “The Met Office is telling us that we are facing a prolonged period of adverse weather, with Storm Ciara bringing strong winds and rain to most of Scotland this weekend. We’re also being told to expect snow and high winds throughout Monday and on Tuesday morning, so there is the potential for significant disruption on the trunk road network, as well as other modes of transport.”
Events cancelled due to the weather conditions included a 10km run in London that was expected to draw 25,000 runners, as well as horse racing at Exeter and Southwell.
Football cancellations on Sunday included the Premier League clash between Manchester City and West Ham, as well as six scheduled matches in the FA Women’s Super League. In rugby union, the Women’s Six Nations clash between Scotland and England was also postponed.
In Ireland, the opening ceremony of Galway’s year as European Capital of Culture, due to take place on Saturday evening, was cancelled due to bad weather.