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Government 'preparing for worst' amid coldest winter predictions

Transport minister Derek Mckay said they would 'prepare for the worst but of course hope for the best'.

Snow clearing: Snow ploughs have been in action across Scotland
© Geography

Transport minister Derek Mackay has confirmed he is preparing for the worst amid predictions of the coldest winter for 50 years.

There will be a record 205 snow ploughs and salt spreaders available following the acquisition of 57 new gritters and a "healthy supply" of salt, he told MSPs.

Offenders may also be ordered to clear snow and help keep communities moving, he said.

Rail operators have procured new snow and ice clearing machines, and airports have bought snow clearing equipment, runway sweepers, de-icers and improved forecasting equipment.

Ferry masters will retain the final say on whether it is safe to travel but operators will keep commuters informed of disruptions, he said.

At Holyrood, Labour MSP David Stewart said: "I read a press headline today which said 'coldest winter for 50 years to bring months of heavy snow to the United Kingdom'.

"The article went on to reference the 1962/63 winter which saw rivers freeze across Scotland.

"This may be overstating the prediction from the Met Office for the winter, but I think there is very real fears that Scotland faces fuel shortages as road and transport networks grind to a halt.

"What emergency contingency plans are in place if the dire warnings predicted by the press come to fruition?"

Mr MacKay said: "We can prepare as best we can for the winter episodes but we can't accurately predict what will happen.

"It could be a range of weather incidents, be it snow, wind, rain, flood, whatever that may be. So, the answer to the question is we prepare for the worst but of course hope for the best."

He said a record number of people are using government information services, with more than 100,000 users now following the Traffic Scotland Twitter feed.

Former transport minister Stewart Stevenson - who resigned amid criticism over government communications during the severe winter of 2010/11 - urged Mr Mackay to maintain the use of "traditional methods" of phones, text messaging and FM radio as well as social media to communicate weather risks.

Mr Mackay said: "I suspect Stewart Stevenson probably invented them, which is why I am more than happy to look into that."

Winter preparations

Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said: "I have some sympathy for the minister, as the challenge of Scotland's transport minister versus Scotland's winter weather is one that assumes the proportions of Canute trying to order the tide back."

Mr Mackay said: "Mr Johnstone asked me if I believed things are totally resolved and prepared for. We can do our best, I can't guarantee there won't be incidents, but, yes, I believe the actions have been undertaken."

SNP MSP Stuart McMillan asked if people issued with community service orders will be called upon to help keep communities moving.

Mr Mackay said: "It is a matter for local authorities, but of course the Scottish Government is sympathetic to councils deploying people in this way."

STV weatherman Sean Batty said it was difficult to give specifics about seasonal forecasting, and urged Scots to be prepared for whatever weather comes.

He said: "Seasonal forecasting is very different to day to day forecasts, where we can give specific details about wind, rain and temperature. In long range forecasting we look at possible drivers for the coming season, and try to determine what sort of general conditions they might bring.

"As it stands we’re watching a growing El Nino, which could become record breaking in the Pacific, lower than normal sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic and upper air patterns.

"Putting all the ingredients together, our leaning is towards a stormier milder start to winter, followed by a more settled colder period from January. Even if winter does start off generally mild, there is still likely to be brief cold incursions with a risk of some snow.

"Don’t get caught up in the hype of what sort of winter we’re going to have, because no one can give you specifics no matter what they claim.

"My advice is always be prepared for all eventualities as we move into the winter months. Over the last several years we’ve experienced everything from violent and devastating wind storms in the milder winters, to severe cold and disruptive conditions in the colder winters."

Is it really going to snow for 36 days this winter?

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