Waves crash against the sea wall in Swanage, Dorset, as Storm Alex clips the UK

Weather: UK hunkers down as heavy rain and high winds sweep country

Heavy rain has been falling in parts of the UK, with the Met Office issuing warnings not seen since March. Persistent downpours are expected to bring flooding and transport disruption, with more than 20 flood alerts in place and gusts of more than 70mph hitting the south-west of the country.

A family of four had to be rescued by firefighters from a road in Billericay, Essex, on Saturday morning after their car became trapped in floodwater.

The wet weather followed a low-pressure system named Storm Alex moving in from France and clipping the southern edge of Britain on Friday. The strongest gust, of 71mph, was recorded at Berry Head on the Devon coast.

Amber weather warnings for rain are in place for Wales, the West Midlands, south-west England and parts of eastern Scotland on Saturday. The Met Office said the last time amber warnings were issued for rain was in March.

The places worst hit so far include parts of Exmoor, with 84mm of rain recorded in 36 hours in Liscombe and 74.4mm in Brendon Hill. The Met Office’s Greg Dewhurst said more than 120mm was possible over high ground on Saturday.

Yellow rain warnings are in place for the east of England, London and the south-east, plus much of Wales, western England and eastern Scotland, where heavy rain is set to push in from the north-west. The rain is expected to last into Sunday in these areas.

Dewhurst said: “It is going to be raining and horrible all day. If you have to travel, take extra time on your journey – the roads will be pretty treacherous at times, with poor visibility due to the heavy rain.”

Drains could become blocked with debris as trees are still in full leaf and there is a heightened risk of flooding and difficult driving conditions.

John Griffiths, another meteorologist, said: “There’s still a lot of wet weather to get through today and into tonight, so we haven’t really seen the worst of it yet.”

ScotRail announced that train services in amber warning areas would begin winding down from 4pm, with no trains running at all after 7pm.

Police forces across the country issued warnings to drivers after a number of crashes on waterlogged roads. North West motorway police tweeted: “If you are using the network this afternoon, please slow down. Lots of stand water across the network today. Please allow extra time for your journey.”

Conditions are expected to improve for many on Sunday, though the weather is likely to remain wet and windy in some areas.

Carol Holt, the Environment Agency’s flood duty manager, urged people to stay away from swollen rivers and not to drive through floodwater. “It is often deeper than it looks, and just 30cm of flowing water is enough to float your car,” she said.

Rod Dennis, a spokesman for RAC Breakdown, said road conditions would be “miserable, if not downright dangerous” this weekend. Drivers should expect “an ugly mix” of surface spray, gusty winds and more than likely some disruption on the roads, he said.