Hurricane Ophelia: What to Know


Ireland and the U.K. are bracing Monday for an onslaught of rain and gale-force winds as Ophelia, a Category 3 hurricane at its peak, slams onshore.

With maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour (140 km/h), Ophelia’s center was located southwest of Ireland at 49.2N 13.3W as of 11 p.m. ET Sunday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center’s advisory.

No major Atlantic hurricane has existed that far east before, meteorologists say.

Now a post-tropical cyclone, Ophelia is moving northwards at 44 mph (70 km/h), according to the Hurricane Center. Here’s what to know about the 10th consecutive Atlantic storm system to have strengthened into a hurricane this year.

When and where was Ophelia formed?

Ophelia was first formed as a tropical depression on Oct. 9 over the Eastern Atlantic, off the northwestern African coast.

It gradually gained strength and became a hurricane as it traveled in a northeastern direction through the ocean, first becoming a Category 2 hurricane on Thursday before further strengthening into Category 3 on Saturday with winds of up to 115 mph (185 km/h).

No hurricane or major hurricane (defined as Category 3 or above) has been that far east before, according to Colorado State University meteorologist Philip Klotzbach.

Why has Ophelia attained such strength?

The location and track of Ophelia makes its strength particularly remarkable, reports the Washington Post. Even though it tracked further to the north than hurricane-strength storms usually do, abnormally warm water temperature in the Atlantic and light upper-level winds created favorable conditions for the storm to intensify.

As TIME reported earlier this year, the increasing severity of hurricanes could in part be attributed to rising ocean temperatures, as a result of climate change.

Is this unprecedented?

It is not unusual for storms like Ophelia to hit the U.K. or Ireland, according to the Post. Data analysis shows that at least 45 onetime tropical storms have approached the region since 1851 — making it one hit every 3.5 years on average.

Earlier this storm season, Hurricane Gert brought wet and windy conditions to parts of Britain in August, the Post reports.

Ophelia’s timing is a historical coincidence, however. It comes as the U.K. marks the 30th anniversary of the Great Storm of 1987, where a storm — though not one originating in the Atlantic — brought hurricane-force winds and substantial damage to southern England.

What is the forecast for Ireland and the U.K.?

Met Eireann, Ireland’s weather service, issued a nationwide status red warning — its highest warning level — with Ophelia expected to track over the entire country on Monday. It warns of “violent and destructive gusts” with speeds between 74.5 mph (120 km/h) and 87 mph (140 km/h), as well as rain and the risk of storm surges.

People in Ireland are advised to remain indoors and cancel all unnecessary travel on Monday, while schools will be closed. It could be the worst storm to hit in over 50 years, reports the Irish Times.

The U.K.’s Met Office, meanwhile, warns of “very windy weather” for Northern Ireland, much of Wales and northern England, as well as parts of southern and central Scotland. Wind gusts in Northern Ireland could get up to 80 mph (128 km/h) in some parts, according to the forecast.

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