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expert reaction to hurricane ophelia

Forecasters have issued a “danger to life” warning as one of the biggest storms in years – Hurricane Ophelia – has hit the UK and Ireland.


Prof. Pier Luigi Vidale, professor of climate science at the University of Reading, said:

“This storm is very unusual. Records show the last time one of this severity – beyond Category 2 – came this close to the UK was in 1966, with Hurricane Faith. We also had Debbie in 1961, but its nature as it arrived in Ireland is unknown.”

“They also show that we have not had such a strong storm this far north and this late in the season since 1939. The overall North Atlantic hurricane season is exceptional, for the like of which we must go as far back as 1893”.

“There was, of course, the great storm of 1987 – 30 years ago this year – but this was not categorised as a hurricane by the National Hurricane Centre. Another more recent near miss for the UK was Hurricane Iris in August 1995, which came close to the British Isles but was no longer a hurricane by the time it was in the English Channel.”


Prof. Len Shaffrey, Professor of Climate Science at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading, said: 

“Storms such as Ophelia are not very common, for example, the last storm that had a similar path was ex-Hurricane Gordon in 2006. What is very unusual about Ophelia is that it kept its hurricane strength winds and structure right up until it transitioned into an extratropical storm just before it hit Ireland.

“It is difficult to know whether climate change has contributed to Ophelia. There is some early research which suggests that warmer sea temperatures associated with climate change might allow Atlantic hurricanes to travel further towards Europe before becoming severe extratropical storms. However, these results are very recent and more research needs to be done to determine whether this is likely to be an impact of climate change.”


Dann Mitchell, NERC Research fellow at the University of Bristol, said:

“There is evidence that hurricane-force storms hitting the UK, like Ophelia, will be enhanced in the future due to human-induced climate change. While tropical hurricanes lose strength when they travel north, they can re-intensify due to the nature of the atmospheric circulation at UK latitudes. It is the rise in temperatures over most of the Atlantic that is a primary driver of this, a clear signature of human induced climate change.”


Julian Heming, Tropical Prediction Scientist at the Met Office, said:

“Wind gusts of up to 80 mph are expected over the UK from ex-hurricane Ophelia. This kind of wind strength is not unusual for an autumn/winter storm in the UK. E.g. four of the five named storms affecting the UK last season recorded wind gusts in excess of 80 mph.

“The historical record only shows one hurricane reaching Ireland whilst still at hurricane strength – Debbie in 1961. However, due to the paucity of observations at that time it is possible that, like Ophelia, Debbie transformed into an ‘extratropical cyclone’ some hours before it struck Ireland.”


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