Cyclone Ophelia batters Spain, Portugal, Ireland, the UK, and Norway

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Five-day forecast cone of uncertainty with track line for Ophelia (17L) from the National Hurricane Center.
Image: National Hurricane Center.

Storm Ophelia is currently affecting the Finnøy municipality in Norway, with winds of up to 45 kilometers per hour after beating a path through Ireland. The storm christened Hurricane Ophelia had battered Azores as a Category 3 hurricane before striking Ireland on Monday morning. Although various weather agencies have downgraded Ophelia to a post-tropical cyclone or windstorm, it has already whipped the island with 109 mile per hour winds (176 km/h), leaving roughly 100,000 households without electricity. The government of the Republic of Ireland has issued a red wind warning, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has asked residents to remain indoors for the duration. Both the Republic and United Kingdom have ordered military forces ready to respond to emergencies. The United States National Hurricane Center predicted the storm will cross Ireland and make landfall on Scotland Monday evening, which it did, with winds of up to 55 kilometers per hour.

"Public safety is our key concern today. Advice is to stay at home, no unnecessary travel or other outdoor activities. Further updates later", Varadkar said via Twitter.

The Dublin and Manchester Airports have cancelled or grounded large numbers of flights, and an amber warning is in effect for Northern Ireland and a yellow warning for Scotland, northern and western England and Wales.

Most hurricanes do not remain very strong this far north. At 11:00 a.m. Saturday morning, Ophelia unexpectedly intensified to a category 3 hurricane, setting the record for the easternmost category 3 hurricane in recorded history. Ophelia was at that time expected to lose its "tropical characteristics" and turn into a powerful, hurricane-force extratropical cyclone before reaching Ireland and Scotland.

"A number of [tropical storms] reach Europe, but usually they are weak systems," Reindert Haarsma of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute told Newsweek. "That they reach Europe with this strength, near hurricane force, is quite unusual."

A hurricane is defined by a central column of warm, water-laden air, which a course over the northern Atlantic Ocean often melts. If this had happened to Ophelia, it would have been classified as an extratropical cyclone upon reaching Ireland, but it was still expected to have hurricane force winds.

According to Haarsma, northern countries may suffer even more damage because the people and infrastructure are not set up for storms of this kind. This early in autumn, the trees have not shed their leaves, and the types of trees that grow in this area do not tend to bend in strong winds.

The island of Ireland is home to two political entities, the Republic of Ireland, which is independent, covers most of the island, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, covers six Ulster counties in the north. The head of state of the Republic of Ireland is called a Taoiseach.

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