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Worst windy weather in 20 years, says Wheeler

Strong winds flung a large rock onto the runway at Sumburgh Airport. Photo: Ronnie Robertson

SHETLAND has been battered by arguably the worst spell of protracted winter gales seen since 1993, according to Fair Isle weatherman Dave Wheeler.

The wind calmed a little on Monday morning to allow flights in and out of Sumburgh Airport, albeit with some delays, after numerous cancellations on Sunday.

The southbound sailing of NorthLink passenger ship MV Hrossey is due to leave the town around the scheduled time tonight, while MV Hjaltland is due to leave Aberdeen on schedule but is not expected in Lerwick until 9.30am tomorrow.

There has also been considerable disruption to inter island ferry services, with services to and from Skerries and Whalsay suspended on Monday morning.

Severe south easterly gales damaged a foot bridge in Hoswick, while repairs were needed at Lerwick Hotel after the winds caused a crack in a plastic dome above the hotel’s foyer.

In Skerries an electricity pole has snapped its stays. Isles resident Ryan Arthur says the pole is “leaning precariously towards the road” and will be“hugely dangerous” if it falls. Scottish Hydroelectric intends to come in and fix the problem, but it is unclear when the next ferry to the island will be.

The storms have knocked out broadband for some users in Vidlin and Burravoe.

A BT spokeswoman said engineers had traced the fault to a link between Firth’s Voe radio station and the Sullom Voe exchange “believed to be the result of storm force winds causing damage to a radio dish”.

“Unfortunately due to the weather conditions it is not currently possible to climb the towers,” the spokeswoman said. “Engineers are waiting for the winds to abate so they can investigate further and start repairs.”

A standby vessel braving stormy seas on Sunday. Photo: Ian Leask

A large rock was flung onto the under-repair runway at Sumburgh – while part of a concrete retaining wall appears to have been washed away.

The bad news, according to Wheeler, is that there is “no sign of any marked improvement yet” – the only note of optimism he sounded being that February is “statistically the quietest month of the winter in Shetland”.

“This run of poor weather with incessant strong winds and frequent gales is probably the worst since 1993,” Wheeler said, referring to the storms of 21 years ago which pushed the Braer oil tanker onto the rocks.

He explained that an area of high pressure sitting over Scandinavia, which is experiencing dry and cold conditions with little snow, was blocking areas of low pressure to the west of Scotland. That is resulting in seemingly “endless” south easterlies. 

“It’s turning a little colder now as a subtle change to a more easterly direction is drawing the colder air across Norway towards us,” Wheeler added.

“But it’ll be back to the severe south easterly gales by Friday!”

Conditions are likely to be far from ideal for tomorrow’s Lerwick Up Helly Aa, with winds of 40mph anticipated throughout the day.

But if the impromptu dancing session which took place outside Da Noost on Commercial Street on Sunday night is anything to go by, it seems unlikely that anything the elements have to offer will extinguish revellers’ spirits.