Storm Bella will bring severe gales and heavy rain to the UK and Ireland on Boxing Day, forecasters have warned.
Winds of up to 70mph are expected in exposed coastal locations of the UK and further downpours are also due, with the Met Office adding 15-25mm is likely to fall in Wales and south-west England, and up to 40-60mm over some hills.
Parts of the country are already sodden after recent wet weather and flooding, with residents in more than 1,300 properties along the River Great Ouse in Bedfordshire advised to leave their homes as water levels rose on Christmas Day.
The area’s fire chief said telling people they needed to leave their home at Christmas was “a terrible message to deliver”.
Paul Fuller, chief fire officer at Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, told BBC News: “It is of course a dreadful thing when we’ve faced all these months of difficulty and restriction.”
Crews from Bedford and Harrold have rescued 9 people and 3 dogs from a severely flooded property in Harrold this morning. Flood warnings in place for much of Bedfordshire. #StaySafe pic.twitter.com/6NsSQ5k0J6
— Bedfordshire Fire Control (@Beds_FireCtrl) December 25, 2020
He added: “The peak in Bedford has now passed it seems, but the towns and villages further down stream are still at risk.”
Further rain is expected on Sunday and Monday and the area is one of three under a severe flood warning, meaning a danger to life, along with the Cogenhoe Mill caravan site and Billing Aquadrome Holiday Park, both on the River Nene in Northamptonshire.
Bella, which follows relatively calm conditions across the UK on Friday with early morning snowfall recorded in some areas, has led to the Met Office issuing an amber wind warning, saying travel could be disrupted for parts of south Wales and across southern England from Saturday night through to Sunday morning.
People have been warned that flying debris could cause injury or be a risk to life, and buildings could be damaged in the storm.
More than 70 properties were left without power on Christmas Day in Cirencester, Gloucestershire when an electricity substation flooded.
Homes are also at risk of flooding due to heavy rain and council officials have been providing sandbags for those affected.
Councillor Joe Harris, leader of Cotswold District Council, said: “We know that a number of our residents have had their Christmas ruined and we are doing all we can to support them.
“We are working with Cirencester Town Council which is providing local support and we are liaising with parish councils in Siddington and South Cerney which are also experiencing rising river levels and may have residents whose homes are under threat of flooding.
“We are replenishing sandbag supplies for communities at risk where the town and parish councils have already exhausted their supplies.”
Large parts of Northern Ireland are facing a yellow warning of rain and wind from lunchtime on Boxing Day through to the evening, with conditions potentially disrupting travel.
⚠️ Yellow Warning issued ⚠️
Rain and Wind across Northern IrelandBoxing Day 1300 – 2200
Latest info 👉 https://t.co/QwDLMfRBfs
— Met Office (@metoffice) December 26, 2020
Meanwhile, a yellow warning of wind for the whole of England and Wales as well as the far south of Scotland has also been issued and will be in force from 3pm on Boxing Day.
In addition to the strong winds, the Met Office said a period of heavy rain will affect western and southern areas on Boxing Day.
A yellow warning for rain has been issued for parts of Scotland, Wales and much of north and south west England on Saturday, including areas where there has already been flooding from recent downpours.
In Ireland, Met Eireann issued a country-wide status yellow wind and rain warning, in force until 4am on Sunday.
As of 5am, England has 78 flood warnings and 99 flood alerts, two flood warnings and five flood alerts are in force in Wales, and seven warnings and 13 alerts have been issued by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
Bedfordshire Police on Friday “strongly urged” residents living near the River Great Ouse in north Bedfordshire to seek alternative accommodation due to fears of flooding.
On Christmas Day, Superintendent Steve Ashdown, who is leading the response, said officers had visited just over 1,300 homes in the area the previous evening and officers reiterated the advice on Friday.
“The river is currently at heightened levels and we’re predicting a significant flooding event by 8pm this evening,” he said in a video on Twitter.
“Appreciate the timing of this at Christmas Day is not great, but the risk to you and your family and wellbeing is significant.”
He asked residents able to leave their homes to do so in a “Covid-safe way” if possible, recommending they go to one single location and stay there until it is safe to return in the coming days.