Local News for Wednesday 21st December 2016

Winter storms pass over islands
A series of storm winds are set to pass over the islands between now and Boxing Day, with the Met Office now warning that the next four days will see extreme conditions, set to peak on Friday evening with winds gusting up to 90mph. Two weather warnings have been issued for the Eilean Siar region. For today there’s a yellow ‘be aware’ warning of what the Met Office calls ‘a range of hazards’ including severe, cold and blustery westerly gales, frequent lightning, snowfall over higher routes and ice on untreated surfaces. For 24 hours from Friday at 9am the warning level is raised to amber or ‘be prepared’ for a high likelihood of impacts including structural damage and power interruption. The warning says: “A spell of very strong south to southwesterly winds is expected to develop on Friday. Gusts of 60 to 70 mph are likely quite widely, with westerly winds gusting to 80 - 90 mph across parts of western and northern Scotland later on Friday and overnight into Saturday. Winds will then moderate on Saturday morning.” Friday’s storm has been named Storm Barbara, the second official storm of the winter season.

The electricity network operator SSEN has arranged for extra crews of engineers, and equipment including portable generator units, to be shipped to the islands. This adds to the existing island-based resources to increase resilience if there is damage to the power network. During yesterday power was off for a time to homes in Uig, Rhenigadale and Grimsay. SSEN reminds customers of the easy dial number 105, to be used if you lose power and need information.
The Braighe was closed for three hours yesterday morning, re-opening just before 2pm with traffic escorted in convoy on a single lane.

Airline operator Loganair has planned ahead with the forecasts in mind, and is offering passengers who hold a reservation on a Flybe flight operated by Loganair on 23rd or 24th December within Scotland the chance to transfer the booking to any Loganair flight on the same route departing from today.  The change will be free of charge and no fare differences will be applied. If there is a seat available on an earlier flight, you can transfer your booking on a first-come, first-served basis.They’re also adding extra seats on flights from Glasgow to Stornoway and Benbecula on Thursday 22 December. A spokesman for Loganair said: “If you can't change your travel plans, please rest assured that we'll do everything that we safely can do to ensure that the flight on which you're booked takes place on-time and with you, your baggage and your fellow customers aboard.   We will commit to operating every flight unless we're unable to do so for safety reasons.”
And in other news…
New ETV – but just the one….
The Emergency Towing Vessel Herakles, based to the North of Scotland, is to be replaced by a new vessel before the end of the year, according to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. A five-year contract has been awarded to Ardent Maritime Netherlands BV, to begin on 31 December 2016. The ship is the Ievoli Black, a 70 m towing vessel of  2283 gross tonnes with a pull of 139 tonnes. The vessel is experienced in ETV operations, having served as an ETV for the Netherlands from 2010-13. The Ievoli Black has sailed from her current station in the Adriatic and will be in the UK in time to relieve the existing MCA tug, the Herakles, of its duties by 31 December. UK Government Ministers announced earlier this year that they would guarantee funding for the next five years to support maritime safety in the area, but have continued to refuse the case for a second tug based in Stornoway. The Herakles was sent to assist with the grounding of the oil platform Transocean Winner in August this year, when she took 18 hours to make the jouney from Orkney to Dalmore, where the incident occurred. An MCA spokesman said: “This award demonstrates the UK Government’s commitment to protecting the marine environment, specifically recognising the particular challenge in north and north-western Scotland where commercial tugs are scarce.”
New website for island charity
The Leanne Fund is ending a very exciting year with the launch of a brand new website. The charity launched a development project in 2016 with the expansion of services from the Highlands and Islands to Grampian. They also recruited their first employee, opened a new office in Stornoway and now have a re-designed website to help people find out more about services provided by the charity and also about volunteering and fundraising opportunities. Chrisetta Mitchell, Development Manager of The Leanne Fund said: “We want our website to be a one stop source of information for anyone wishing to find out more about our support services and how to access them. We also wanted it to be easy for those wishing to get involved with volunteering and fundraising to find out about our work and events and to sign up online.”