Ophelia breaks no records but spares no county

Winds reached extraordinary strengths during Storm Ophelia, with one gust recorded at the Fastnet Rock, off Co Cork, reaching a 191km/h.

Charlie Szekeoy from Hungary, who came to Ireland just to see the storm, struggles to take a selfie at Lahinch. Picture: Brian Arthur

To put that in context, winds greater than 118km/h are classed as Force 12 — hurricane force — so even though the Fastnet weather station is 16km offshore, on high ground and particularly exposed, Ophelia reached that threshold with plenty to spare.

It was a steady build-up to that point, with Ophelia heralding her arrival on the south west with winds increasing gradually from midnight on Sunday, rising from average speeds of 37km/h with gusts of 46km/h to double those values at 6.30am yesterday morning.

By 8am, wind speeds in the area were averaging 92km/h, with stronger gusts. By 9am, they were up to 111km/h and, by 10am, they had broken the motorway speed limit, reaching speeds of around 129km/h.

At this point, the storm was doing its worst overland in Cork and Kerry, with trees down on many minor roads, but at 10.50am, it reached frenzy point at Fastnet, hitting average wind speeds of 144km/h, with one gust measuring 190.756km/h.

The highest wind speed ever recorded in a gust onshore in Ireland was during Hurricane Debbie in 1961, when Malin Head in Donegal experienced 181km/h.

But even the 156km/h recorded at Roches Point during the morning was enough to have Met Éireann describing it as “phenomenal”.

While records were not broken by Ophelia, what made the storm unprecedented was its reach. At some 120km wide, with a track that took her from the South-West to the North-East, she affected every part of the country, although not all endured the peak of her strength.

The storm moved upwards through Waterford, Clare, Limerick, and Kilkenny in the late morning and early afternoon, with the effects also being felt Wexford.

By 3pm, the storm had tracked slightly westwards and was centred over Co Galway, where a complication arose, with a second core of storm force westerly winds feeding into the storm, particularly affecting southern Galway and northern Clare.

Meanwhile the Midlands were also beginning to take a battering and although the East was missing was the worst, Force 11 winds were causing structural damage there too.

However, while the winds were abating in the southern half of the country, Ophelia hadn’t finished entirely there. With high tides due in late afternoon in many parts, sea surges of up to a metre high brought waves rolling in over harbour walls and coastal defences with flooding in many parts.

While total rainfall was less than feared, heavy downfalls were scattered across the country, some accompanied by thunder and lightning.

From 5pm to 7pm, the storm moved northwards from the Galway-Dublin line, with Mayo, Sligo, south Donegal, Meath, Louth, and the northern Midlands taking the brunt of the winds just as darkness began to fall, with high tides in the north-east still several hours away.

Border areas, north Donegal, and the Northern counties all experienced severe winds and some heavy rain in places as the storm continued in a north-easterly direction, eventually clearing the country off the Antrim coast around midnight.

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