The Met Office took the unusual step on Thursday of issuing a rare red weather warning as Britain braces to be battered by Storm Eunice.
The UK’s official weather service issued the alert – meaning there is a danger to life from flying debris – for parts of south west England and south Wales from Friday morning as rail passengers in London have been warned not to travel.
The alert came as Number 10 said the Government had called a meeting of Whitehall’s emergency committee COBRA on Thursday morning to discusss the response to Storm Dudley and Storm Eunice, which could bring winds of up to 90mph.
A government spokesperson said: “The Minister for the Cabinet Office will chair a COBRA this morning to discuss the response to Storm Dudley and Storm Eunice.”
The UK Health Security Agency for the London region warned Storm Eunice could knock down trees and urged Londoners to bring in their loose garden or balcony items.
It tweeted: “#StormEunice is expected to bring very strong winds on Friday.
“Be alert – listen for weather warnings and secure loose items in your garden or on balconies.
“If you must travel, take extra care as strong winds could knock down trees and pick up debris.”
It comes as London North Eastern Railway issued the advisory on Wednesday evening as the Met Office upgraded its warning about high winds across the region from yellow to amber.
London is forecast to be pummelled by 40mph winds at the end of what is set to be one of the country’s wildest weeks of the year.
Eunice is expected to hit the South West and Wales even harder, with predictions that gusts could top 90mph.
A separate amber warning has also been issued for the north as Storm Dudley hit on Wednesday, with the Met Office saying power cuts and transport disruption were expected.
Storm Eunice could be even more damaging, with stronger winds than Dudley, heavy snow and possible blizzard conditions.
In a statement on its website, London North Eastern Railway revealed it will be running a reduced service between King’s Cross and York/Leeds as it warned of “severe weather conditions” across the UK on Friday.
“Please do not travel on Friday 18 February,” it said.
“Our trains will be most impacted by the severe weather in the southern parts of our route (south of York/Leeds) and as a result we will be running a reduced service between London King’s Cross and York/Leeds. We expect these trains to be extremely busy and subject to short notice cancellations and alterations.”
High winds were already hitting the UK on Wednesday as Dudley moved in.
As of 5pm, Capel Curig in Wales had experienced gusts of up to 81mph, with Emley Moore in Yorkshire seeing 74mph winds, while Drumalbin in Scotland was hit by 71mph gales.
Social media users shared images and videos of fallen trees, large waves smashing coastal areas, howling winds and rain sweeping through quiet roads and dark and gloomy skies, with some facing delays on public transport.
Met Office forecaster Greg Dewhurst told the PA news agency: “We’ve seen Storm Dudley move in over the course of today with strong winds and heavy rain across northern parts of the country.
“This is a complete contrast to areas in the south which have been rather mild and calm for the most part, the temperature even reaching 17C in some areas.”
The Met Office issued an amber weather warning for strong winds caused by Storm Dudley covering central Scotland, parts of Northern Ireland and northern England above Hull.
The warning says: “Injuries and danger to life is likely from large waves and beach material being thrown onto coastal roads, sea fronts and properties.”
It was expected to last from 2pm to midnight, with yellow warnings for wind as far south as Birmingham.
Heavy showers were expected throughout the afternoon, with snow on high ground in the North.
In the southern half of the UK, mild temperatures of up to 14C or 15C were experienced on Wednesday.
Thursday was expected to offer some respite for most, but Storm Eunice was predicted to be even more challenging for many, this time affecting the southern half of the UK on Friday.
Another amber warning has been issued, with the potential for stronger winds, and predictions that gusts could top 90mph in the South West and South Wales.
Met Office spokeswoman Nicola Maxey said: “We are looking at particularly stormy period right now, with two named storms coming through one after the other.
“This sort of weather set-up is typical for the UK in the winter, with low pressure coming in from the west, driven by the jet stream.”
She said the forecast after Storm Eunice continued to look unsettled with the potential for more wet and windy conditions over the weekend and the start of next week.
The Energy Networks Association has offered safety advice ahead of the storms.
Spokesman Ross Easton said: “It’s really important to stay safe when bad weather hits. If you come across fallen power lines or damage to the electricity network, stay well clear and call 105 for free to report it. If there is an immediate risk to life or someone is in danger, dial 999.”
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the coming days will be “very challenging”, adding: “High winds may cause issues on roads and bridges, disruption to power supplies and danger from falling trees.
“We would urge everyone to plan their journeys in advance, exercise caution on the roads, and follow the latest travel advice.”