Local News for Thursday 22nd December 2016

Storm warnings pile up over Christmas
Storm warnings issued by the Met Office now cover the entire period between now and Boxing Day, with the strongest warnings still out for Friday. The Met Office has added a yellow ‘be aware’ warning for Christmas Day, warning of a further spell of very strong southwesterly winds, with gusts of 50 to 60 mph likely to occur quite widely. Parts of northern Scotland could see gusts up to 70mph, and waves built up from previous days could lead to coastal overtopping and closure of causeways. Today’s yellow warning remains in place, with the whole period up until 6pm on Thursday likely to be blustery, cold and with heavy and frequent wintry showers, together with lightning. Storm Barbara officially hits from 12 noon on Friday, with the worst effects being felt around 6pm in the Western Isles. The warning level here is on amber or ‘be prepared’, with structural damage, travel disruption and power cuts possible.

Flight and ferry plans
Transport operators are wrestling with the logistics of getting people where they want to be at Christmas, at the same time as ensuring that services run safely. Loganair have announced substantial changes to their Friday services, with flights between Glasgow and Stornoway and Benbecula, and between Edinburgh and Stornoway, running at altered times. If you are planning to fly it is essential that you view travel information guidance on the Loganair website at www.loganair.co.uk. Today (Thursday) they expect to run to normal timetable but with larger aircraft now planned on the Glasgow-Stornoway and Glasgow-Benbecula flights. This will help more passengers travel before the height of the storm on Friday. They plan to run a normal schedule on Christmas Eve, but again recommend that all passengers check before leaving home and make contingency plans in case travel is delayed.
Ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne is advising customers to pay close attention to weather forecasts and to plan accordingly where possible. Operations director Drew Collier said: “Storm Barbara is well-forecast and will undoubtedly bring with it potential for widespread disruption, particularly on Friday, but also extending into Saturday. As ever, we will do everything we can to safely deliver our services but, at the moment, it seems that significant disruption is highly likely. We recognise that people are travelling home to see friends and family, and that anticipation of the festivities runs high at this time of year. Be assured, we will make all efforts to ensure that we can help people make their journeys when safe to do so and that we will continually scrutinise forecasts to identify possible windows of opportunity for each and every route. But the weather is outwith our gift and could cause major issues”.
Local services and safety
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have issued advice that bus services, expected to continue as normal today, are likely to be disrupted on Friday. CnES Roads and Police will be monitoring all causeways. Householders are advised to secure any loose debris and the Comhairle asks family, neighbours and friends living nearby to assist and support elderly and vulnerable people.
 Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) is reminding people to take extra care if using candles during any power cuts. In the event of a loss of 999 services, all fire stations will be manned by emergency services.
SSE is on alert and has put in place its contingency plans to deal with any damage the storm may cause to the electricity network. Any customers who lose their electricity supply are urged to contact SSEN on 105 to report damage or highlight neighbours or friends who may need extra help.
And in other news:
HebCelt’s Christmas Cracker
Hebridean Celtic Festival has lightened the mood for storm-struck islanders, by announcing a Christmas cracker of a line-up of new acts for 2017. Dougie MacLean, one of Scotland’s most revered singer songwriters, is making a return, more than two decades after he helped launch one of Scotland’s most successful music festivals. Dougie  appeared at the first HebCelt in 1996 and is in the festival’s Hall of Fame. He will be joined at the event by Skerryvore - just announced as 'Live Act of the Year' at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards - and who have a new single and album to be launched in the new year. Also in July’s line-up are the Peatbog Faeries, one of the biggest names in contemporary folk music, who are marking their 25th anniversary this year. New live act Ímar make their HebCelt debut and also appearing will be local favourite C. Macleod (formerly known as The Boy Who Trapped the Sun) and the Luke Jackson Trio. Other bands already announced include the Waterboys, former X Factor contestant Lucy Spraggan, and Tide Lines, a Scottish band with strong traditional influences who launched earlier this year.