Storm-force winds of up to 100mph are poised to hit Scotland today, forecasters have warned.
Schools across the country are expected to shut, key routes are likely to close, and police may warn motorists to avoid travelling altogether, the Scottish Government said.
Travel is expected to be disrupted in many places during afternoon rush hour, as the strongest gusts are forecast between 3pm and 6pm.
The Met Office issued its highest red-alert warning for winds of at least 75mph and gusts of 90mph in the Borders, Strathclyde, Tayside, Fife, the Lothians and central and south west Scotland.
A spokesman said travel conditions would be “extremely poor” and motorists could face “significant delays”.
Stormy conditions are expected across the country, with a risk of thunder tonight.
Forecasters said rain, sleet and snow showers would mean ice is a problem on the roads.
Aisling Creevey, a forecaster for MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: “We could see up to 90mph winds across eastern Scotland, possibly gusting up to 100mph across Scotland and the Northern Isles.
“In Scotland, the temperature looks to be about 9C (48.2F) but it certainly won’t feel that way in those winds and that rain – you’re probably looking at down to 0 or minus temperatures.”
After a meeting of it’s resilience committee last night, the government advised councils in western areas to close schools this morning and said those in eastern areas should shut schools at noon.
Meanwhile, police may raise their travel warning and urge motorists to avoid travelling altogether, the government said.
Earlier, all eight of Scotland’s police forces warned drivers to be careful.
Fife Police said travellers should expect the Forth and Tay road bridges to be closed to traffic. The force said high winds could further disrupt roads, with fallen trees and other debris.
Chief Inspector Davie McCulloch, the force’s head of road policing, said: “Drivers should prepare to be delayed and are advised to ensure they have sufficient fuel for an extended journey, spare clothing and a fully-charged mobile phone to hand.”
Assistant Chief Constable Allan Moffat of Central Scotland Police said: “If the weather is as severe as currently being predicted, then there will be a significant impact on the roads network with a high risk of disruption.”
A spokeswoman for Aberdeen City Council said road temperatures are predicted to fall below freezing, which could result in a “flash freeze”.
The Glasgow Loves Christmas campaign said attractions in the city’s George Square will be closed because of the weather.
Scotland’s transport minister Keith Brown said today looked to be “a major challenge” for the country‘s transport system.
He said: “Police have issued advice today that there is a very high risk of Forth and Tay road bridge closures and that travellers can expect congestion on all the main routes.
“More generally we would expect conditions to be difficult and recommend people follow police advice to take extra care and only travel if necessary.”
Transport Scotland‘s multi-agency response team (Mart), which involves police, rail operators, road operating companies and the Met Office, will remain operational until at least Friday night.
Mr Brown added: “As well as possible bridge closures, we need to prepare for blown-over vehicles and trees.
“The initial high winds are expected to peak in the afternoon into the evening, so commuters are advised that if they can leave work earlier or work from home, that would be a very sensible step to help avoid possible rush-hour delays.”
ScotRail said speed restrictions of 50mph could be put in place on trains travelling after 10am.
The speed restriction is being introduced in case high winds blow debris and trees on to rail lines and damage equipment.
Steve Montgomery, the train operator’s managing director, said: “We will constantly review weather forecasts and respond accordingly. Our aim is to ensure as robust a service as possible.”
David Simpson, Network Rail route managing director for Scotland, said: “We will have over 350 engineers out on the network working to keep the railway running.
“However, the extreme nature of the conditions, and the impact they can have on our infrastructure, means that a speed restriction is necessary in the interests safety.”