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Ophelia is the strongest storm to hit the British Isles in 50 years

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Hurricanes are best known for hitting the Caribbean and southern United States in summer and autumn, where the warm seas provide the energy that storms need to build up extraordinary power. But in the last decades, we've begun to see more tropical cyclones emerge in more unusual locations.

The record-breaking 2005 hurricane season saw Katrina and Rita hit the United States, but it also saw the unusual Hurricane Vince (opens in new tab) form over the North Atlantic and barrel into Spain and Portugal – the first storm to do so since 1842.

This year, however, we've been confronted with an even weirder phenomenon - Hurricane Ophelia. Ophelia didn't begin in the tropics at all - it began life as a decaying cold front over the North Atlantic in early October. 


The storm sat in place for a few days, rapidly strengthening into a hurricane. First, category one (opens in new tab) was achieved, then two, then on 14 October Ophelia became the easternmost hurricane ever recorded to hit category three - indicating winds of more than 110 miles per hour.

The storm then tracked north-east, heading for Spain and Portugal. But at the last moment it shifted to a more northward trajectory, aimed at the west coast of Ireland. The more northerly waters are cooler, and so the storm has been starved enough to downgrade it below hurricane status, but it's still likely to be the strongest to hit the British Isles in at least 50 years.

“By the time Ophelia reaches our latitudes, she will be weakening and will be an ex-hurricane,“ said (opens in new tab) Met Office chief forecaster Steve Ramsdale. ”However, Ex-Ophelia will be bringing some significant impacts to Northern Ireland and western and northern Britain on Monday and Tuesday. 

Those impacts have already included wind gusts above 100 miles per hour, as well as heavy seas. At the time of writing, the UK Met Office has a string of weather warnings (opens in new tab) issued across much of the west of the country.

More to come

It's impossible to link Ophelia and other unusual hurricanes directly with climate change, because they're just single events. But sea level rise and increasing sea surface temperatures make for more damaging storms, (opens in new tab) and both of those phenomena are a part of climate change. So it's fair to say that we can expect stronger storms in the coming years.

If you'd like to track the former hurricane online, the best places are the Met Eireann (opens in new tab) and the UK Met Office (opens in new tab) websites. The Guardian is running a liveblog (opens in new tab), Meteoalarm has summaries of all the weather warnings across the whole of Europe (opens in new tab), while Accuweather has a great interactive hurricane tracker (opens in new tab) where you can see the history of the storm. 

Last but not least, Nullschool's wind visualisation page (opens in new tab) is a visually-arresting way to follow Ophelia's progress (opens in new tab) (pictured above).

Duncan Geere is TechRadar's science writer. Every day he finds the most interesting science news and explains why you should care. You can read more of his stories here, and you can find him on Twitter under the handle @duncangeere.