Former Hurricane Ophelia plowed into southern Ireland early Monday, unleashing wind gusts as high as 119 mph, ripping off roofs and downing trees. The Irish Meteorological Service said it could be the country’s strongest storm in 50 years.
The BBC reported the storm had caused at least three deaths. The Journal, an Irish news outlet, said an “unprecedented” 360,000 customers were without power.
Schools throughout Ireland were closed Monday and Tuesday, and bus and rail services were extremely limited.
As the storm swept through its southern areas, the Irish Meteorological Service described the winds as “violent and destructive” and predicted damaging winds to “extend rapidly to the rest of the country” Monday afternoon.
— Met Office Storms (@metofficestorms) October 16, 2017
All of Ireland was under a “status red” wind warning, the highest level. Several locations — mostly in extreme southwest Ireland — reported wind gusts exceeding hurricane force, including:
- 119 mph gust at Fastnet Rock, a lighthouse about 8 miles offshore of southwest Ireland, at height of 200 feet.
- 97 mph gust at Roches Point, a lighthouse at the entrance to Cork Harbor.
- 84 mph gust at Sherkin Island, before power loss.
- 78 mph gust at Cork Airport, before power loss.
- 76 mph gust at Shannon Airport.
If the 119 mph gust at Fastnet Rock is verified and considered official, it would break the record for Ireland’s strongest wind gust of 113 mph set at Malin Head, at Ireland’s northern tip, during Hurricane Debbie in 1961.
Wind gusts of at least tropical storm-force (39 mph and higher) affected much of Ireland. Dublin recorded a gust of 65 mph.
Images from social media showed roofs sheared off a school gym and soccer stadium in Cork, a university city just inland from Ireland’s southwest coast, where wind gusts reached hurricane strength.
— Eoin English (@EoinBearla) October 16, 2017
— Independent.ie (@Independent_ie) October 16, 2017
As the storm and its winds piled water up along Ireland’s west coast, the ocean surged inland. In Salthill, on Ireland’s central west coast, David Blevins, a correspondent for Sky News, tweeted that coastal defenses were “completely breached.”
— David Blevins (@skydavidblevins) October 16, 2017
While destructive, the storm was moving very quickly and was expected to exit southern areas by 4 to 6 p.m. Monday local time, and northern areas by around midnight.
Effects on the United Kingdom
The U.K. Met Office issued an “amber wind warning,” its second-highest alert, for Northern Ireland as well as parts of north and west Wales and extreme southwest Scotland.
“There is a good chance that power cuts may occur, with the potential to affect other services, such as mobile phone coverage,” the Met Office warned. “Flying debris is likely, such as tiles blown from roofs, as well as large waves around coastal districts with beach material being thrown onto coastal roads, sea fronts and properties.”
Wind gusts to hurricane force reached west Wales, where a 90-mph gust was clocked in Aberdaron, a former fishing village. Belfast, in northern Ireland, logged a gust of 53 mph.
Southeast of where the storm was expected to pass, very mild air was being drawn northward on strong southerly winds. London’s temperature reached at least 72 degrees Monday afternoon, local time.
These southerly winds were also carrying dust from the Sahara over the United Kingdom, causing the sun to appear red:
— Met Office (@metoffice) October 16, 2017
Ophelia’s place in history
When Ophelia became a major — Category 3 (or higher) — hurricane Saturday, it marked the sixth such storm to form in the Atlantic this year, tied with 1933, 1961, 1964 and 2004 for the most through Oct. 14, according to Phil Klotzbach, tropical weather researcher at Colorado State University.
The storm is most remarkable, however, for where it reached such strength — becoming the first storm to reach Category 3 strength so far east.
— Sam Lillo (@splillo) October 14, 2017
Much-above-normal water temperatures and light upper-level winds helped the storm reach such unusual intensity so far north and east in the Atlantic Ocean.
While having a major hurricane so far east in the Atlantic Ocean is rare, it is not particularly unusual for former tropical weather systems to slam into Ireland and the United Kingdom. As we wrote Friday, this happens about once every several years, on average, conservatively.