BRITAIN was lashed by hurricane-force winds that reached nearly 100mph and torrential rains as a cataclysmic weather system called Storm Imogen battered parts of the country and claimed its first tragic victims.
Terrifying gales of up to 100mph have made Britain the third windiest place in the world.
A dedicated RSPCA has gone missing from a storm-ravaged beach where he was trying to help a flock of gannets.
A major air and sea search rescue operation is underway for Inspector Mike Read who had been called out to an urgent wildlife rescue of gannets stranded at Porthchapel beach near Penzance.
Despite extensive efforts, fears are growing that the 54-year-old might have been swept out to sea when Storm Imogen first hit the Cornwall coast.
Inspector Read was last seen on Sunday afternoon when gusts were recorded as high as 80mph and waves measured off up to a staggering 63ft.
His white van was found parked at the Minack Theatre car park.
A spokesman for the RSPCA said: “The alarm was raised this morning when he failed to return home from duty and a major search was started in the severe weather, involving the RSPCA, Devon and Cornwall Police and coastguards.”
Two children have been seriously injured near Worcester after a brick wall collapsed on top of them as they walked to school with their mum.
The youngsters, aged five and seven, were airlifted to hospital in Birmingham after being buried underneath rubble from a 10ft high garden wall that came down in high winds.
They sufered serious leg injuries and the wall, thought to have been brought down by the power of the gales, have only been inspected by the local council a week prior.
Local resident Don Bird, 71, said: “The wall was only inspected last week because it had started leaning towards the road.
“A mum had been taking her kids to school when it happened. It must have been harrowing for her.”
In another terrifying storm-related case, a man was seriously injured and his dog was killed in West Sussex after winds caused a wall to come crashing down on them.
The elderly man suffered a double fracture in his leg after a five foot high flint wall collapsed onto him and his pet.
Sadly his dog is confirmed to have died.
Storm Imogen Hit United Kingdom
“Everybody we have available is out working but many of the incidents are have been caused by airborne damages such as trees falling on power lines.”
Thermometers threaten to plunge to -14C (7F) in Scotland this week as strong winds whip up “blizzard” conditions.
Parts of the South West are set to face a month’s worth of rainfall in a mere 24 hours while Wales saw 18mm of rain in just six hours this morning.
Met Office Spokesperson Nicky Maxey said: “We have seen wind gusts of 96 miles per hour on the Isle of Wight and gusts of above 80mph were also recorded in the Isles of Scilly and Wales.”
Rail services in Wales, the South West and in southern areas are being disrupted due to strong winds, with speed restrictions and cancellations.
A number of schools across Cornwall were forced to close or open late due to the power cuts or damage caused by the storm.
Gusts of 73mph and 69mph have been recorded in Avonmouth near Bristol and in the Isle of Portland in Dorset.
There are nearly 60 flood warnings in place in England and Wales – meaning flooding is expected – and more than 200 flood alerts – meaning flooding is possible.
The Met Office and Irish Met Eireann said the ninth named storm of the season – Imogen – will tear through the south of England.
It has issued severe weather warnings for wind in the region with a more serious amber alert for severe gales in place across Devon, Cornwall and the West Country.
The high winds brought a large tree crashing down, right over the entrance to Wimbledon Magistrates Court.
Drivers who parked their cars on Fistral Beach in Newquay found their cars buried in sand this morning.
Another tree caused traffic chaos in Mitcham – closing a main road for several hours from 7am in the morning.
Some forecasters warn of an added risk of snow this week with sub-zero temperatures bringing harsh frosts and ice.
The mercury is forecast to dip to -14C (7F) in Scotland overnight with lows of -2C (28F) as far south as London by the weekend.
The immediate threat is from Storm Imogen which will hit UK shores during the early hours of tomorrow.
Met Office forecaster Mark Wilson said: “It is going to be a very stormy day on Monday with strong winds picking up during the early hours.
“Much of southern England and Wales will be affected with widespread inland winds of 60 to 70mph and coastal gusts of 80mph.
“This could come as quite a surprise and catch people unaware due to its sudden development.
“Temperatures will also gradually decrease as we progress throughout the remainder of the upcoming week, and this will allow for further widespread snow across many parts of the country throughout Thursday and into next weekend.”
The Met Office said daytime temperatures in the north will hover in low single figures through the week with highs of 10C (50F) further south.
However strong winds will make it feel colder with thermometers dropping widely overnight towards the weekend.
Independent Netweather forecasters warned ground temperatures could drop to -14C in Scotland with -2C likely elsewhere.
“Flooding may affect individual coastal properties and promenades and may lead to some travel disruption.”
Leon Brown, forecaster for The Weather Company, said winds are due to pick up tonight.
He said: “The weather is changing very rapidly from the west on Sunday afternoon as the jet stream pushes another Atlantic weather system rapidly east.
“Gales will develop over the Irish Sea and western Channel before moving inland across western and southern Britain bringing gusts 60 to 70mph near western and southern coasts and 55mph inland through the evening.”