Hurricane Ophelia is just a few miles and hours away from hitting Ireland and parts of the UK. Deadly storm surges coupled with life-threatening winds, heavy rain and flash flood are likely to cause structural damage.
More than 5,000 homes and business centres are without power in parts of western and southern Ireland due to very windy weather.
Met Éireann, the Irish National Meteorological Service had issued a Red Alert for some counties on the west coast and an orange alert for the rest of the country. Areas that are likely to be hit by Ophelia include Mayo, Clare,Wexford, Galway Cork, Kerry, Waterford and Limerick. These areas are set to see winds in excess of 80 miles an hour. Met Éireann had also mentioned in one of its statements that large waves may lead to flooding in coastal areas.
Schools, colleges and courts are already shut in Ireland. Airlines such as British Airways, Aer Lingus and Ryanair have cancelled more than 150 flights and buses have come to a halt in Dublin.
The US National Hurricane Center has stated that Ophelia had become a ‘rare category 3 hurricane south of the Azores’, making it the ‘sixth major hurricane of the 2017 season’.
Hurricane Ophelia has already reached winds of 185km/h but these gusts are expected to weaken to 130km/h by the time it hits Ireland. Nonetheless, the hurricane will be a significant weather event with high impacts.
While Hurricane Ophelia has put Ireland on lockdown, parts of UK are also bracing for 80mph gusts of wind. According to Britain’s meteorological service, the weather system may affect rail, air and road traffic. Very strong winds are expected to affect western parts of the UK.
After battering parts of UK and Ireland, the fast-moving storm is expected to dissipate around Wednesday somewhere north of Scandinavia.
Met Eireann has compared Ophelia to Debbie, which hit Ireland in September 1961. With its record-breaking winds, Debbie caused severe disruption, killing 15 people. It is regarded as possibly the only tropical storm on record to ever strike Britain and Ireland.
Ophelia – Unprecedentedly dangerous storm of 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season
Ophelia officially gained hurricane status last Wednesday and quickly intensified into a Category 3 hurricane on Thursday. The storm did dump heavy rain over the weekend, though failed to cause any severe damage to the island. However, Ophelia’s structure and appearance changed drastically over the weekend and as it approached Ireland, it lost its status of a hurricane and became powerful extra-tropical storm.
Owing to its wind speed, Ophelia would be the 10th consecutive storm to reach hurricane strength in the Atlantic this season. Prior to Ophelia, the tropical storms that reached the hurricane status were Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria and Nate.
The other years with ten consecutive hurricanes were 1878, 1886 and 1893.
2017 Atlantic Hurricane season is turning out to be one of the most destructive and costliest seasons on record with a preliminary total of over USD 186.8 billion in damages. Almost all of this damage was due to major hurricanes of the season – Harvey, Irma and Maria.
North Atlantic Hurricane Season
A variety of factors influence the occurrence of strong storm season. These factors include the presence of El Niño and other climate patterns. El Niño events increase the wind shear over the Atlantic which eventually produce a less-favorable environment for formation and decreasing tropical activity in the Atlantic basin.
Since the record keeping of tropical storms within North Atlantic Ocean began in 1851, there have been 1505 systems. Out of these systems, almost 879 reached the hurricane intensity.
Climatologically speaking, the North Atlantic hurricane season extends from June 1 to November 30.
As seen in the table below, the peak of the season is from August to October. However, deadly hurricanes may occur anytime during the hurricane season.
Total and Average Number of Tropical Storms by Month (1851-2015)
|Month||Total||Average per year|
|Jan- April||5||less than 0.05|
Typical locations and tracks of tropical storms
The beginning of the Hurricane season in June is related to the timing of the increase in sea surface temperatures and convective instability. With an average of 1 or 2 tropical storms every 2 years, these systems usually form in the Gulf of Mexico. Come July and the tropical systems travel westwards through the Caribbean and either move towards the eastern coast of United States or enter Gulf of Mexico.
The tropical storm systems gain momentum in August as a decrease in wind shear contributes to increased activity. On an average four named tropical storms, including a hurricane, take place by end of the month.
September sees an average of three storms per year. Low wind shear and the warmest seas surface temperatures found in September play a pivotal role in the intensification of storm systems and increased number of hurricanes.
The favorable conditions for the formation of tropical storms begin to decay in October and due to increasing wind shear and cooler sea surface temperatures, the occurrence of storms and hurricanes falls markedly. The month features 9 named storms with 5 hurricanes. The Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico are at risks from these tropical storms.
But does it mean that traveling to Mexico during a Hurricane season is unsafe? Most experts believe that every mile of Mexico is vulnerable to a hurricane, however, it only takes one hurricane to make it a bad year. The choice, however, becomes simpler due to the fact that inland areas such as Mexico City are less likely to be impacted by the magnitude of the hurricane in comparison to beach locations.
The tropical storms are less likely to pay a November visit but 11th month can produce tropical systems. The western Atlantic northeast of Cuba and the southwestern Caribbean near the Central American coast are the two spots where tropical systems usually form. These storms put eastern Cuba, Bermuda and the Bahamas at greater risk.
Though the hurricane season peaks from June to November, there have been off-season storms from December –May as well. Since 1870, there have been 32 off-season tropical storms.
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