The post-tropical incarnation of Hurricane Ophelia slammed Ireland and the northern parts of the U.K., including Scotland, on Monday with damaging wind gusts, towering waves, coastal flooding, and a bizarre phenomenon related to wildfires burning in Portugal and Spain.
As a hurricane, Ophelia set records for being the strongest storm ever observed so far to the north and east in the Atlantic Ocean. On Friday and Saturday, the storm brushed past the Azores as a Category 3 storm. Then, it underwent a rapid transition into an extratropical low pressure system, feeding off the differences in air masses and upper level energy from the jet stream, rather than heat and moisture drawn from the warm waters of the Atlantic.
The storm prompted Met Eireann, Ireland’s weather service, to issue a rare, nationwide red weather warning for strong winds on Monday. The agency instructed people to remain indoors during the day, and the government closed its offices as well as schools, and parts of the transportation networks.
As of midday Monday, eastern time, there were media reports of at least 2 storm-related deaths.
The storm, referred to by Met Eireann as Ex-Hurricane Ophelia, or “Storm Ophelia,” produced a 10 minute average wind speed of 57 miles per hour, with a gust to 84 miles per hour at Roches Point. However, much higher gusts have also been recorded elsewhere:
119 mph at Fastnet Rock (at a height of 200 feet)
97 mph at Roches Point
84 mph at Sherkin Island (before the weather station lost power)
78 mph at Cork Airport (before a loss of power)
76 mph at Shannon Airport
According to the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang blog, if the 119 mph wind gust is verified, it would break the record for Ireland’s strongest wind gust on record, which was 113 mph, set in 1961 during the remnants of Hurricane Debbie.
The storm’s strongest winds have been measured to the south and southeast of the storm center, associated with an area of stronger jet stream winds, known as a “sting jet,” that can form in rapidly intensifying extratropical storms such as this one.
The strongest winds likely affected the Trump International Golf Course in Doonbeg, Ireland.
The storm has caused power outages, blown the roofs off buildings, and pulled in smoke from deadly wildfires in Spain and Portugal, along with dust from the Sahara Desert, all the way to the North Sea.
In England, on the eastern side of the storm, southerly winds brought so much smoke and dust that the sun glowed an ominous red , prompting numerous posts on social media.
The smoke was so thick that it forced at least one emergency landing due to the smell of fumes inside the aircraft cabin.
Fortunately, the storm is moving rapidly, and will weaken as it heads across Scotland and toward Scandinavia. While Ireland and England see their fair share of strikes from former hurricanes, Ophelia will likely be remembered for a long time to come.
This region may grow increasingly vulnerable to such storms in the future if climate change expands the parts of the Atlantic that give rise to hurricanes. This can occur because of increasing sea surface temperatures, but other factors could help or hinder such a trend.