By Dominic Harris
Severe flood warnings have been issued for large areas of East Anglia as high tides and strong winds threaten to swamp the coastline.
The Environment Agency (EA) has issued 18 alerts for the region, warning of severe flooding and danger to life.
West Mersea in Essex, Southwold and Thorpeness in Suffolk, the Riverside business park in Lowestoft, Suffolk, and along the Bure and Yare rivers in Great Yarmouth are likely to be affected.
By 7am this morning the EA had issued 140 flood alerts across England and Wales with 3,000 properties expected to suffer from flooding in the next 24 hours.
High tide during darkness
EA spokesman Peter Fox said: "The most important thing is that along the east coast of England the high tide will be hitting in the hours of darkness this evening and tonight.
"So people really need to take the daylight hours today to prepare for the coastal and tidal flooding that we are predicting."
Mr Fox said evacuation in "key areas" was being discussed with the police.
Gusts of more than 90mph have been recorded in Scotland, according to MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association.
Serious tidal surge
The gale-force winds threaten to whip up the most serious tidal surge for 30 years.
Areas most at risk of flooding include the North Sea coast from Northumberland down to the Thames Estuary and Kent.
The EA has issued a severe flood warning - the highest category, warning of danger to life - to homes and businesses near The Quay in Sandwich, Kent, for high tides between 12.45am and 1pm on Friday.
The tidal reaches of the River Trent, Nottinghamshire, could also be affected today.
Large waves with high water levels
On the west coast, severe gales and large waves combined with high water levels are also expected from Cumbria down to Cheshire.
The Thames Barrier was closed on Wednesday night to protect London, and other defences have been activated at Colne in Essex and in Hull.
Natural Resources Wales is urging people along the north Wales coast between eastern Anglesey and Liverpool to be prepared for flooding.
Dr Paul Leinster, chief executive of the EA, said: "Gale force winds and large waves along the east coast of England are forecast during Thursday and Friday.
"Flooding of some coastal communities is expected and some defences could be overtopped by the combined effect of high tides, high winds and a tidal surge.
Danger on coastal paths
"Coastal paths and promenades will be highly dangerous as there is an increased risk of people being swept out to sea.
"The Environment Agency is monitoring the situation closely, working alongside partners including the emergency services, Met Office and local authorities.
"Environment Agency teams are out on the ground checking that flood defences and barriers are in good working order, monitoring sea levels and issuing flood warnings."
A major traffic route into Leeds city centre, past Bridgewater Place tower - the tallest building in Yorkshire - is being closed today.
Only South Wales the South West and southern parts of England will escape the high winds, which will ease during the afternoon.
The Environment Agency warned that high water is due between 10.30pm and 10.45pm, when tide levels will be more than three metres.
The EA issued a severe flood warning - the highest category, warning of danger to life - to homes and businesses near The Quay in Sandwich, Kent, for high tides between 12.45am and 1pm on Friday.