HIGH winds of up to 70mph caused traffic chaos today (Thursday, January 31), blowing over lorries, uprooting trees and ripping down tiles and signs.

Strong westerly winds hit the North-East and North Yorkshire, with an amber warning in place for much of the day.

Shortly before 7am, a 100ft oak tree crashed down onto a Citroen van travelling on the busy A177 on the outskirts of Durham, near East Durham College’s Houghall campus.

The male van driver was shocked but unhurt.

The road was closed for three hours, leading to rush hour gridlock across the city. The A690 was virtually at standstill from the city centre to Carrville, leading to two-mile tailbacks on the A1(M) northbound.

Another oak tree nearby also fell onto the road.

Landowners Durham University blamed high winds and saturated grounds, apologised for the inconvenience and promised to conduct a risk assessment of the surrounding area “as a matter of urgency”.

Trees were also brought down near the A167 in Croxdale and Durham’s Wharton Park.

A lorry was blown over on the A1(M) south of Chester-le-Street shortly after noon, leaving the southbound carriageway blocked for more than three hours and causing long delays.

Another lorry was blown over on the A1 southbound in Morpeth, Northumberland. The vehicle went onto the verge and was due to be removed overnight.

No-one was hurt in either incident.

In Durham, North Road near the city’s bus station was closed to pedestrians for some time after the winds tore tiles off roofs, sending them crashing onto the busy shopping street below.

Household waste recycling centres in Leadgate, near Consett, and Annfield Plain, near Stanley, were also closed.

In Bishop Auckland, winds blew a shop sign off the front of Holland and Barrett health food store, on Newgate Street, shortly after noon. Staff held the sign in place until firefighters removed it.

Manager Karen Walker said she was thankful no-one was nearby.

A large sign was also torn off its board in Newcastle, leading to some road closures.

The winds were expected to calm to around 15mph overnight. Sunny spells and showers are expected tomorrow, becoming wintry later.

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