As someone who lived in the subtropics till age 21, I feel I can lay some limited claim to expertise on cyclones. I checked out how cyclones differ from hurricanes, and found they are southern and northern hemisphere names for the same kind of event – an intense low pressure system with fierce winds. But in fact this one, Ophelia, was as different from my experience of such as Yasi as could be.
Imagine my amazement when on Monday afternoon, 16 0ctober, the state had (for my safety and comfort) bewilderingly confined me to a safe room in my B&B in Dublin, where the sun streamed through the window most of the day. There was some rough wind later in the day and some loss of big old trees in Dublin. But no rain to speak of at all.
The day before and the day after the hurricane were brilliant blue-sky sunny days of preternatural calmness. The best kind of weather imaginable in a usually cloudy, if not drizzly, Dublin. This was a WIND event rather than a rain event. I’ve never experienced a low pressure system of this intensity (‘most intense storm since 1961’, the headlines trumpeted) which did not drop metres of water (in Townsville, rain is measured not in inches but feet in the monsoon season). And the state was insistent on keeping us safe from falling trees, powerlines, roofs hurtling through the air. Good move. The kids got two days off school and there was much power-walking being done in the streets before the hour of doom, first 12 noon, then later, and later. The winds blew up in Dublin around 2pm but shutters went up closer to the original deadline.
I don’t want to minimise the damage in Cork, Clare and Galway, and the midlands. Three people dead, close to 300,000 households without power in the worst affected areas four days after the event and still waiting (many may have to wait 10 days, authorities warn, and those in medical need cannot be prioritised – ‘the system does not permit’), and a few big roofs which became un-tethered.
Extraordinary events were logged. A huge wave, the highest since records, was measured at a dazzling 58.4 feet off Mayo, and in Wexford a 1000-year old body was exposed and has gone to the archaeologists for analysis. If the rain comes, and it might tonight four days later, the expectation is that 50mm will be dumped, but that weather event is not being linked with the hurricane locally.
A dry cyclonic low pressure system that has travelled over heated water from the Gulf of Mexico, nursery to most of the catastrophic storms we’ve seen in the US, towards a country unused to extreme weather might need to think about asking hard questions of the TD who denies climate change? Or devising a hurricane plan?
Frances is a member of the Editorial Collective of Tinteán.