Ophelia, Brian & Eleanor - Result of Global Warming? Yes, No or Maybe?


Situated at the receiving end of the Atlantic storm tracks, Ireland has a long history of coping with extreme storms. Wind has always been the most feared weather element in Ireland. The autumn storm season in Ireland is often enhanced by the remnants of hurricanes coming across the Atlantic, having transformed themselves into deep mid-latitude depressions as they encountered the colder waters of the north Atlantic. As John Sweeney, professor emeritus in the department of geography at Maynooth University states: ‘Sometimes this occurs before they make their transatlantic journey; but the eye and the tropical characteristics associated with a true hurricane are always replaced with characteristics more typical of a mid-latitude frontal depression. That is not to say they are any more benign.’

Over the past four years Ireland has experienced the wettest winter on record over most of the country, the stormiest winter of the past 147 years, its first taste of a near-intact Atlantic Hurricane Ophelia, followed quickly by Storm Brian, Storm Caroline, Storm Dylan, and now Storm Eleanor. How Atlantic hurricane frequency and intensities will respond to greenhouse gas-induced global warming is a topic where the jury is still out. For most Irish people, the question has been: is this the shape of things to come?



Oisín Coghlan is Director of Friends of the Earth, a member of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition. 

Make no mistake, Ophelia, Brian and now Eleanor is what climate change looks like. Every storm now bears the fingerprint of global warming. The Earth’s atmosphere is 1C warmer than it was 150 years ago. That additional energy makes stronger storms more likely. Moreover, hurricanes can only develop over very warm water so they have been rare in the eastern Atlantic. As the ocean temperature increases, such hurricanes become more likely.

Preventing runaway climate change is a real emergency. The storms and floods of recent years took place in a 1 degree warmer world. 2 degrees is regarded is as the upper limit of what human civilisation could cope with.

All the pledges to cut pollution by countries across the world still leave us on track for 3 degrees of warming. And current policies have us on track for a 4 degree warmer world, which the World Bank has concluded is “incompatible with an organised global community”.

Ireland is among the worst countries in the world when it comes to tackling the climate emergency. We are the third highest polluters per person in the EU and the eighth highest in the rich world. We are one of only 5 countries in the EU which is going to miss its 2020 targets, and the only one of those where emissions are predicted to continue rising.



Prof Len Shaffrey of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science in the UK.

This is the 10th consecutive tropical storm that has turned into a hurricane this year. It is unprecedented but cannot be blamed on global warming. Evidence of the greater intensity of hurricanes, on the other hand, may be due to warming sea waters caused by human-induced global warming.

It is difficult to know whether climate change contributed to Ophelia, Brian or Eleanor. There is some early research which suggests warmer sea temperatures associated with climate change might allow Atlantic hurricanes to travel further towards Europe before becoming severe extratropical storms.

However, these results are very recent and more research needs to be done to determine whether this is likely to be an impact of climate change.

What was also unusual about Ophelia is that it kept its hurricane-strength winds and structure right up until it transitioned into an extratropical storm just before it hit Ireland.



Danny Healy Rae – Kerry TD.

Danny Healy-Rae has strongly rejected that Hurricane Ophelia is a result of climate change. The Kerry TD made national headlines last year when he said in a Dáil debate that, "God above is in charge of the weather and we here can’t do anything about it".

Now as Storm Eleanor exhibits her force throughout the country, the Independent TD is adamant that it is in no way linked to global warming.  

"I've talked a lot about my views on climate change in the past and I stand by them," he said.

"There have always been different weather patterns with big storms equivalent to [Ophelia] recorded over the years.  "I personally don't believe in climate change and don't think the burning of fossil fuels has any effect on our climate.  

"During the notorious storm [in 1839], we didn't have all the machinery, factories or livestock that we have today.  "While that particular storm had a devastating impact in this country, you certainly couldn't say that climate change played a part," he said.  

The Kerry representative added that he believes scientists use climate change as a "money-making" tactic.  "All over the world they are making enormous money from climate change," he said.  

"They're getting millions out of fear mongering. Many scientists – even half of them – don't even believe in climate change. "I have raised this issue going way back and there are plenty of people who agree with my stance." 


So, as we face Storms Fionn, Georgina and Hector over the coming months, what do you think? yes, no, or maybe?