Hurricane Ophelia smashes Atlantic record, heads for Ireland Monday

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By reaching Category 3 intensity on Saturday, Hurricane Ophelia became the strongest hurricane ever observed so far east in the Atlantic Ocean. It also became the sixth major hurricane to form this season so far, tying 1933, 1961, 1964, and 2004 for the most major hurricanes through Oct. 14. 

What the storm is about to do next is also unusual, though not at all unheard of. Over the next 24 to 48 hours, Hurricane Ophelia will transition from a storm containing a warm core — meaning warmer air is near the center of the storm — to a powerful cold core, post-tropical low pressure system.

As it does so, the wind field surrounding the center of the storm will become broader, and there may be an area of extremely strong winds located to the southwest of the storm center, along a warm front. Such an area of strong winds in extratropical storms is known as a “sting jet,” and have been increasingly studied in recent years. 

According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Ophelia may still contain hurricane force winds of 74 miles per hour when it hits Ireland on Monday, which could grind air and ground travel to a halt, knock out power lines, and drive towering and damaging waves onto the coast. 

Satellite image showing Category 3 Hurricane Ophelia passing southeast of the Azores on Oct. 14, 2017.

Satellite image showing Category 3 Hurricane Ophelia passing southeast of the Azores on Oct. 14, 2017.

Based on computer model projections, the areas most likely to see the strongest winds include southwestern Ireland, and the northern and western part of Great Britain, including Scotland. Met Eirann, the Irish version of the National Weather Service, issued a wind warning for Galway, Mayo, Clare, Cork, and Kerry on Monday, due to winds that may gust in excess of 80 miles per hour. Such winds could cause “structural damage and disruption, with dangerous marine conditions due to high seas and potential flooding,” the agency said.

In southeastern England, including London, the storm is not expected to bring extreme conditions, but may actually drag unusually mild air northward from Europe, sending high temperatures soaring to near 25 degrees Celsius, or 77 degrees Fahrenheit, on Sunday and Monday, according to the UK Met Office.

Satellite image showing the position of Hurricane Ophelia off the west coast of Portugal.

Satellite image showing the position of Hurricane Ophelia off the west coast of Portugal.

While it might seem rare at first to have a hurricane affecting Ireland, it’s actually quite common for the UK and Ireland to see remnants of tropical systems, even relatively intense ones like Ophelia. The area is well-protected from seeing a full-blown hurricane make landfall, though. The waters off the southwest coast of the UK are too cool to support a tropical storm or hurricane, and the presence of the jet stream at upper levels of the atmosphere ensures that any storm approaching the area would be torn apart or make the switch to an extratropical weather system. 

By Tuesday, the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia will be passing by Scandinavia, and all eyes may turn to the next storm that may form in the Atlantic during this unusually destructive season. 

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