Storm Ophelia has produced winds like a hurricane’s, wildfires in the Iberian peninsula, and red skies over England. Though these seem like the portents of a coming apocalypse, there’s actually a sensible explanation for all of them.
Hurricane Ophelia making its way to the UK [Image by AFP/Getty Images]
Just the path of Ophelia, a post-tropical storm, was already in itself an oddity. It made landfall on Ireland in the evening of October 15, 2017. This seems innocuous enough, but the UK doesn’t get storms like Ophelia due to its location and the chillier climate that usually doesn’t allow the formation of storms that thrive in warm waters.
So why did Ophelia make landfall on Ireland? The answer is easy: ocean waters that are warmer than usual. What’s remarkable is that a study from 2013 actually predicted that Western Europe will experience more hurricanes due to rising global temperatures. Since Ophelia was the 10th Atlantic hurricane of the season before being downgraded to a post-tropical storm, it’s highly possible that this prediction is in fact correct.
The path of Ophelia [Image by NOAA/National Weather Service]
Let’s begin with the first of Ophelia’s anomalies: its path. Usually, hurricanes don’t get as far east as Ophelia did because the Atlantic is too cool for the hurricanes to survive. Hurricane Charley in 1992 was actually the last hurricane to form that far east. “Why it has developed so far east is probably due to a combination of reasons to do with the gulf stream, the jet stream,” says meteorologist Deirdre Lowe.
Hurricane Ophelia developed over the Azores in Portugal, before going a short distance west then north. Cooler waters then sapped the hurricane of its power and reduced it to a post-tropical storm.
Regardless of this, however, Ophelia has managed to rain devastation on Ireland. The country, in fact, had its first-ever severe weather alert due to Ophelia.
Firefighters battle against wildfires in Portugal [Photo by Tiago Petinga/European Pressphoto Agency]
Meanwhile, Ophelia also had something to do with the wildfires that raged throughout the Iberian Peninsula on October 15. As Ophelia blew by the coast of Portugal, its winds basically fanned the flames. Since this past summer had been long and dry, there were a lot of things that could catch and spread fire.
This, of course, is worrying. Predictions for climate change tell us that long summers and droughts will become more frequent in the future. Thus, many places around the world may be in danger of more wildfires in the future.
Strange skies over London; no alterations have been done on the color of this photo. [Photo by London News Pictures]
Over in England, meanwhile, the storm has brought about something that certainly seems ominous. Social media was awash with images and reports of a red sun in England’s skies. Sign of the apocalypse? Likely not. There’s an explanation for this strange and eerie event, and it’s much less horrifying (and ridiculous) than the apocalypse.
“It’s all connected with Ophelia, on the eastern side of the low pressure system air is coming up in the southern direction,” says forecaster Grahame Madge. Cyclonic winds are taking dust from the North African Sahara and blowing them toward England. Because of this dust, sunlight is coming in at longer wavelengths. Thus, the sun and the sky appear reddish.
So these aren’t exactly the signs of the apocalypse, but they certainly indicate that things aren’t looking good for us climate-wise.
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