Hurricane Ophelia's projected path will take the storm very close to Ireland and the United Kingdom
While rare, it is not unprecedented to have post-tropical storms reach the British Isles
Tropical Storm Ophelia strengthened Wednesday into a hurricane, becoming the 10th consecutive named storm in the Atlantic to reach hurricane intensity.
But the storm’s more lasting legacy may be its unusual northeasterly track towards Europe.
Hurricane Ophelia’s projected path will take the storm very close to Ireland and the United Kingdom on Monday and Tuesday. And while cooler northern waters mean Ophelia won’t have the intensity of recent storms that have slammed the US, it is still likely to pack hurricane-force winds.
Record hurricane streak
The consecutive hurricane streak began quietly on August 9 when Tropical Storm Franklin strengthened into the season’s first hurricane while over the Bay of Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico. The storm made landfall in Mexico that night as a Category 1 hurricane, causing only minimal damage.
But things ramped up quickly two weeks later when Harvey regenerated in the same bay of Campeche and quickly became a hurricane. The storm rapidly intensified before making landfall in Texas on August 25 as a powerful Category 4 hurricane.
This began a brutal six-week stretch that saw Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate devastate parts of the US Gulf Coast and many Caribbean Islands.
The fact that 10 consecutive storms have reached hurricane status speaks to the unrelenting nature of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season. Seemingly every thunderstorm complex in the basin turned into a hurricane over the past two months, with many undergoing “rapid intensification” and reaching the top levels of the Saffir-Simpson scale.
Such a record streak hasn’t happened since 1893. It actually has happened four times (in 1878, 1886, 1893 and 2017), but named storms were much more likely to be hurricanes back in the 1800s because a lack of satellites and other technology meant only the strongest storms and those making landfall would be noticed. This makes 10 straight hurricanes in the modern era an even more impressive feat.
Ophelia heads to Europe
Ophelia is much farther north than you will find most hurricanes in the open Atlantic, which means it is not caught up in the normal tropical trade winds that push systems from east to west across the ocean. This is allowing Ophelia to drift towards the north and east, towards Europe.
While the ocean waters there are not as warm as those in the Caribbean, which allowed previous storms to reach peak intensity, they are warm enough to let Ophelia maintain hurricane strength for the next several days as it picks up speed.
Ophelia will get caught in the “westerlies,” the jet-stream-powered flow that moves mid-latitude weather from west to east, over the weekend as it passes Portugal and Spain and heads towards Ireland.
Its interaction with colder water and the jet stream means Opehlia will likely lose its tropical characteristics before reaching Ireland and the UK, becoming a post-tropical (also called extra-tropical) storm. But that will not have a significant impact on its overall strength as it nears Europe, as Ophelia is expected to have winds of up to 75 mph.
Met Éireann, the Irish Meteorological Service, says Ophelia “has the potential to be a high-impact event in parts of the country,” listing strong winds, heavy rain, and high seas as likely impacts.
While rare, it is not unprecedented to have post-tropical storms reach the British Isles. The post-tropical remnants of Hurricane Gordon moved over Ireland and Northern Ireland in 2006 with winds of 65 mph, leaving more than 120,000 people without power.