Ophelia peaked as a category-3 hurricane near the Azores over the weekend, becoming the most intense storm ever observed that far north and east in the Atlantic Basin. Then, it rapidly transitioned to a post-tropical storm that was labeled Ex-Hurricane Ophelia by Met Éireann, Ireland’s national weather service. This means the storm was drawing energy from the difference in air masses rather than the heat and moisture of the ocean.
Despite this technical downgrade, Ophelia still packed a punch. The storm’s powerful winds, which averaged around 57mph, uprooted trees and downed power lines. It also produced significant storm surge flooding along the country’s west coast. Officials say at least three fatalities have been reported and more than 300,000 people are without power.
At Fastnet Rock, off the coast of County Cork, a wind gust of 119mph was reported. If confirmed, it will be the fastest wind gust ever recorded in Ireland.
On the eastern side of the storm, smoke and dust from the wildfires burning in Spain and Portugal were funneled northward over the UK. This caused the sun and sky to appear red in a large part of the region.
It is not unheard of for Europe to be hit by the remnants of a hurricane. However, the storms typically travel west across the Atlantic Ocean in the Trade Winds and then re-curve to the northeast if they do not make landfall in the US, Mexico, or the Caribbean. Ophelia, however, skipped the transatlantic voyage and moved northeast toward Europe after forming southwest of the Azores.
Scientists say the storm’s rapid intensification and unusual track are the result of warmer than normal sea surface temperatures at northern latitudes and a steering current known as the mid-latitude jet stream. This current of air flows from west to east and carried the storm toward Ireland.
As the climate changes and sea surface temperatures continue to warm, the area of the ocean that supports hurricane development will likely expand northward. This will make Europe even more vulnerable to post-tropical storms.