An abnormal weather event in the northeastern Atlantic is making history as the first storm ever to reach such intensity in the region.
Hurricane Lorenzo, now known as “Storm Lorenzo,” is the post tropical cyclone affecting Ireland this week. On Saturday evening, however, it made history when it reached category five status as the strongest storm ever observed so far east and north in the Atlantic. The unusual nature of the storm, and the likelihood of others similar to it in the near future, is being attributed to climate change.
A 2013 study published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters had already predicted that Europe would likely be hit with more hurricanes as greenhouse warming intensifies. We can understand this prediction if we look at the way hurricanes form.
Hurricanes develop near the equator in warm tropical waters. In the past, hurricanes that developed in the Atlantic would not reach Europe, due to the cold water temperatures it met along the way. The sea surface temperature that catapulted Hurricane Lorenzo to a category five hurricane was 28 degrees Celsius, 1 degree warmer than usual. These differences matter when every degree of increase allows the atmosphere to hold seven percent more water vapor, leading to more intense rainfall.
Watching the impact of Lorenzo right now illustrates how ill-equipped Ireland is to deal with the risks such a storm poses to its coastal areas. As these atypical weather events continue to increase in frequency, the risks to affected areas will also increase.