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Future Hurricanes Could Hit European Shores


Hurricane Ophelia caused damage and deaths in Ireland and impacted upon the UK. Was it the harbinger of heavier intensity storms to cause havoc across Europe?

Normally tropical storms peter out before they come all the way to the European shores. However ominously recent Hurricane Ophelia was much stronger than storms usually are when it arrived in Ireland and the UK a few days ago. Not since 2006 with Hurricane Gordon has there been a similar event, and the one before that to reach Ireland was in 1961. The previous hurricane in Britain was the famous storm of 1987, thirty years ago.

However we now know that climate change heats up water and air, and allows clouds to hold more water. This means that storms have increasing power – we have seen that in the Caribbean area and the Southern USA with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, all category 5 storms, which are amongst the most powerful and damaging ever. 2017 was the year with the highest Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) on record.

What does this mean for Europe?

“There is evidence that hurricane-force storms hitting the UK, like Ophelia, will be enhanced in the future due to human-induced climate change,” said Dann Mitchell, from the University of Bristol. Hurricanes form in the equatorial Atlantic, where the sea surface is warm enough to power them. Normally they head north-west towards North America, but some veer north-east and are carried to Europe by the jet stream. Normally such storms have to travel over cold waters, which reduces their energy; however as climate change warms seas, this might not be so effective in dampening their power.

Much scientific work needs to be done on what the future will bring in terms of storms and intense weather events, but it looks like Europeans might want to invest in sandbags and inflatable boats, even if you live inland.

Image of Hurricane Ophelia: NASA.

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