Hurricanes have wrought havoc in the Caribbean and the American South in 2017. Few spots have been spared. Could Western Europe be the next land area afflicted by a powerhouse storm this horrible hurricane season?
Enter Ophelia, the 10th hurricane of the hyperactive 2017 Atlantic season, which could be headed toward Ireland in about five days.
Earlier forecasts had suggested Ophelia could approach Spain and Portugal’s Iberian Peninsula as a tropical system, which would have been unprecedented. But the latest forecast models have shifted the track farther to the north.
Additional shifts in the track are possible, and it’s also possible the storm stays far enough west of Ireland that any effects are minor.
“This is a relatively unusual track for a hurricane to take, but it’s not unheard of,” said U.K. Met Office forecaster Aiden McGivern in a video. “In 2006, Hurricane Gordon brought some very wet and windy weather to the western part of Britain as an ex-hurricane, and that’s why we’re concerned about Ophelia.”
If the storm strikes Ireland, it would probably not do so as a hurricane, instead having morphed into a powerful extratropical storm as it passed over waters too cold to sustain a conventional tropical system.
Even as an ex-hurricane, both the American and European models suggest parts of Ireland, especially near the west coast, could be blasted by hurricane-like conditions on Monday.
Ophelia is the strongest storm to develop so far east in the Atlantic since 2009, tweeted Klotzbach. The National Hurricane Center predicts the storm to maintain hurricane intensity for the next few days and could even gain a little strength.
Wind shear — which could disrupt the storm’s development — is light, and it is passing over sea surface temperatures much warmer than normal, which should help it sustain hurricane strength through at least Friday.
But this weekend and into Monday, as it gets picked up by the jet stream and races to the northeast, sea surface temperatures will drop from around 75 degrees to a chillier 60 degrees, much too cold to support a tropical system. As a result, Ophelia is most likely to become a nontropical cyclone, but one capable of producing coastal flooding, torrential rain, and damaging winds.
The U.K. Met Office has an excellent video laying out the possibilities with Ophelia:
Ophelia becomes the 10th consecutive Atlantic named storm to attain hurricane strength, Klotzbach tweeted, tying the record set in 1878 hurricane season and matched in 1886 and 1893.