HIGH winds brought travel chaos to the region’s roads, as forecasters predicted more stormy conditions ahead.
Freak gusts of more than 50mph were notched up in parts of the North East, overturning two lorries and ripping apart a huge advertising hoarding in Newcastle city centre.
And weather forecasters have warned the gusts will continue today, with icy temperatures and possible snow flurries following in their wake.
The A1 near Morpeth was closed temporarily after an HGV flipped over in the high winds shortly after 11.40am yesterday, sending it hurtling down an embankment on the southbound carriageway. The driver was lucky to walk away unscathed.
Meanwhile, a tree caused traffic chaos for those heading into Durham after it came down around 7am, completely blocking the A177 route into the city, near East Durham College’s Houghall Campus.
The driver of a Citroen van was left extremely shocked but otherwise unhurt after the 30m (100ft) trunk crashed down on to his vehicle. As an Amber Alert was put in place by the Highways Agency, police were closing off the Pilgrim Street roundabout in Newcastle and a section of the road for over an hour after winds ripped off a large billboard overlooking the road.
The canvas tore away from scaffolding after blowing in the wind for several hours and police and three fire engines were called to the scene to divert traffic and pedestrians.
The board was removed from the hoarding shortly after 1pm and the road reopened. The scaffolding was not thought to be dangerous.
The Amber Alert in the region was lifted at 3.20pm as wind speeds dropped, just as the A1 near Chester-le-Street was reopened. Another lorry had been sent toppling by the wind there, and again, the driver was unhurt.
The main arterial road was closed for several hours between junctions 63 and 62, causing long tailbacks for frustrated drivers.
Sandra Jobling, who was caught up in the traffic jam, said: “I was stuck at Washington for over an hour and for the next hour I was nose-to-nose with other cars trying to get to Durham.”
Traffic began moving again some three hours after the accident, which happened at around 12.15pm, and drivers were asked to avoid the road and use A167 south as alternative route from junction 63.
Meanwhile in Blaydon, Gateshead, office workers had a lucky escape when an 18m (60ft) tree crashed to the ground.
Three staff members at property firm Alrow Services were at their desks when the tree blew over ... thankfully not in their direction.
Manager David Philips said: “Had it blown the other way there is no way our single-storey building would have stood a chance and three people would have been killed.
“They feel very lucky and will be putting the Lottery on now.”
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service said it was surprised to have received just eight weather-related calls, including one to a house in Boldon Colliery, South Tyneside, where the gable end of a home collapsed.
The winds had dropped a little by yesterday evening, but drivers were urged to continue to be vigilant and heed warning signs and automatic advisory speed limits.
Charlie Powell, forecaster at the Met Office, said we should brace ourselves for continuing gusty conditions, which will also feel quite cold in the next two days.
He said: “It will be windy but nowhere near as windy as it has been. It’s been pretty breezy in the North East with gusts reaching 47 knots, which is 54mph, and anything above 50mph is classed as gale force.
“Great Dunfell in Cumbria recorded the highest winds in the UK, of 85mph, but generally it has been the South coast and the Isle of Wight that has borne the brunt of the winds.
“Over the weekend an area of low pressure is moving in, dragging cooler air with it, so it will be bitterly cold until Sunday.”