A leading climatologist has predicted that Ireland will be far more likely to be hit by the tail end of hurricanes in the coming years as the Atlantic continues to heat up.
new documentary series on RTÉ One, Great Lighthouses of Irelandexplains the sheer power of monster waves as they build up over thousands of kilometers in the open sea.
dr Michael O’Shea of University College Cork (UCC), who specializes in coastal engineering, said wave heights can increase dramatically when they hit the coast.
“If you think of a car traveling at 100 km/h and crashing into a wall very suddenly, the force involved is about 1,000 kilonewtons. At Fastnet [Lighthouse]the largest wave calculated to land or break on this lighthouse is about 16 meters long and the force behind it is 20,000 kilonewtons,” he said.
“So that’s 20 times the force that a car can generate at 100 km/h. That’s the kind of power we’re talking about when we talk about breaking waves.”
Retired lighthouse keeper Gerald Butler recalls fortnightly winter storms hitting Fastnet Rock off the coast of Cork, but he was stunned by the strength of any particular storm.
“While standing upstairs in the kitchen holding onto the kitchen sink, this wave hit such a violent belt. If I hadn’t put my foot out to correct my balance, I would have fallen,” he said.
“Everything that was on the dresser flew down to the floor and water splashed into every peephole it could find.”
The kitchen was more than 120 feet above sea level, Mr Butler explained, adding: “I’ve never seen such an angry sea.”
UCC climatologist Dr. Kieran Hickey said Ireland’s storms would become even more violent as they take a tropical turn.
“One of the fascinating changes in storm regimes for Ireland is the tropical component,” he said.
“This really is the end or extratropical remnants of hurricanes and Ophelia is a good example of that.
“Ophelia apparently originated as a hurricane off the Azores and achieved Category 3 status, which was the first hurricane ever to achieve Category 3 status on the east side of the Atlantic.
“It didn’t do what most of them do, which is to travel across the Atlantic to America, but chose to go straight north east to Ireland and as a result it was an exceptional storm.
“It produced exceptionally strong winds and also exceptionally high waves. The record wave for Ireland so far is 26.1 meters from the Kinsale gas platform, just off the south coast of Ireland.”
He said these “huge walls of water” could cause tremendous damage.
“We’re seeing huge walls of water coming ashore and that’s a powerful force, a force like this can quickly overwhelm existing defenses.
“It can start to erode the shoreline and it can also do all sorts of damage to infrastructure.”
On the night of Storm Ophelia in 2017, Alan Boyers, a keeper at the Old Head of Kinsale Lighthouse that night, captured video of the sea breaking into one of the keeper’s cottages, which was nearly 100 feet above sea level.
“I’ve seen many storms, but weathering that storm, by Jesus, was a power,” he said.
“The sea started bubbling up, it was like a pot of boiling water. The roar of the wind, the sea, the pressure banged in our ears.
“What happened first was the sea broke into the living room. The next wave just took the front porch, wiped it out, and there was indeed sea in the hall.
“There was sea in the living room, there was sea down below. It just went ballistic out there. Looking back, it was exciting. But at the time it was scary.”
In the documentary, Dr. Hickey that rising sea temperatures mean more of these types of tropical storms will hit the coast.
“All studies generally predict an increase in storm numbers and an increase in the severity of some storms,” he said.
“In terms of ending hurricanes, as the Atlantic warms and sea surface temperatures rise, they are likely to remain stronger and move further north.
“This puts Ireland much more in the zone affected by the end of these events. I think that Ophelia and Lorenzo are the beginning of this process.”
Great Lighthouses of Ireland is shown tonight at 18:30 on RTÉ One
https://www.independent.ie/weather/ireland-braced-for-a-dramatic-increase-in-tropical-hurricanes-as-atlantic-heats-up-41650907.html Ireland braced for a dramatic increase in tropical hurricanes as the Atlantic heats up