MOST of Scotland is on flood alert as heavy rain, gale-force winds and in some places blizzards are expected, with warnings of travel disruption.

The Met Office says heavy rain is expected to spread north-eastwards across Scotland later today and lasting into the night.

In a yellow warning valid from 4pm today to 3am tomorrow, the weather forecasters said the rain will be accompanied by gale-force east or south-east winds gusting to more than 50mph on exposed coasts. Blizzards were expected for a time over mountains.

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Orkney and Shetland were warned to expect winds of up to 70mph to 80mph before easing through Saturday. There was also the risk of heavy snow, although the forecasters say it currently seems this is more likely over ground above 200 metres.

They advised the public to be aware of the risk of localised flooding and travel disruption, especially across parts of Grampian, Tayside and Fife.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency issued seven flood alerts valid until 4.21pm today covering Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City, Caithness and Sutherland, Dundee and Angus, Fife, Orkney, Shetland and Tayside. The environment regulator said in most areas there was at risk of coastal flooding over the next few days as heavy rain is accompanied by "strong winds and a moderate storm surge".

They said that will coincide with "high astronomical tides" particularly today and tomorrow.

In Tayside, localised flooding was expected as heavy rain hits the area late today and through until early on tomorrow morning.

Sports Minister Shona Robison yesterday said challenging wintry conditions can prove hazardous to anyone under-prepared and that too many lives are lost each year.

Walkers are advised to keep up to date with weather forecasts and inform friends or family of their route.