Thousands of pupils across the Highlands and Moray spent yesterday at home as the Beast from the East brought plunging temperatures, school closures and travel disruption to the north.
Highland Council was forced to close a total of 72 schools and nurseries while Moray had 36 shut. Across the two areas a total of 15,350 pupils had a “snow day”.
Road conditions were treacherous as drifting snow caused “white-out” conditions.
In the Cairngorms, temperatures dropped to -15C – but wind chill made it feel closer to -28C.
There was little sign of much respite from the weather, with amber and yellow warnings for snow and ice in place covering parts of the Highlands and Moray right through until Sunday.
Rail and bus services to the Central Belt were disrupted yesterday, with more chaos expected today as the region experienced Scotland’s first ever red weather warning from the Met Office.
However, in the Highlands the area north of Inverness was the worst hit, with most of the primary schools in Caithness closed. High schools at Dornoch, Farr, Golspie, Tain, Thurso and Wick all remained shut, as did Inverness Royal Academy.
Two lorries blocked a section of the A9 for a short time in the morning when they became stuck south of Dunrobin Castle near Golspie.
Mathew Reiss, councillor for Thurso and Northwest Caithness, said: “I drove from Thurso to Wick and back. There is definitely a lot more snow in Thurso. As far as safety is concerned, when the wind gets up during the showers, in parts it is near white out conditions.
“There is snow and ice on the road and the temperatures are as low as -4oC which means the salt is less effective. Most people were driving sensibly and keeping a safe distance.
“I think the decision to close the schools was the correct one.”
Councillor Nicola Sinclair of the Wick and East Caithness ward added: “Most of the primary schools in Caithness are closed. It has been snowing on and off all day. At one point the snow was very heavy and it was quite difficult to see.
“We have got a good covering in Wick, there were really big hailstones, the sky has been grey all day.”
Snow gates were closed at Tomintoul, Cock Bridge, Spittal of Glenshee and Braemar.
In Moray, police warned motorists to stay away from the A95 between Craigellachie and Aberlour and no buses were able to get into Dufftown.
The Defence Secretary cancelled his visit to RAF Lossiemouth scheduled for today due to the weather.
Moray Council convener James Allan said: “It’s been horrendous. We had a whiteout in Lossiemouth but when I got to Elgin it was like a different country, then another storm hit Lossie in the evening.
“Everyone’s given their all to cope with the conditions, especially the gritters. Nobody is on the road in front of them clearing the way.”
Northlink and CalMac ferry operators reported disruption on routes to Orkney and Shetland, plus sailings from Oban to Coll, Tiree, Colonsay, Islay, Lismore and Mull.