Last winter was stormiest on record in Ireland, researchers find

‘No year in the 143-year record endured a winter as severe as 2013-2014 when both the frequency and intensity of storms are combined’

The pier at the East End village, Inishbofin island Co Galway, which was destroyed by a storm in October 2013. Photograph: Frank Miller

The pier at the East End village, Inishbofin island Co Galway, which was destroyed by a storm in October 2013. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Last winter in Ireland and Britain was the stormiest since records began more than 140 years ago, according to climatologists at NUI Maynooth.

The researchers found this was due to the “unprecedented strength and number of cyclones over the mid- and high-latitude north Atlantic”.

They went back over long-running atmospheric datasets to characterise winter storminess over the north Atlantic for the last 66 years, and back to winter 1871-1872 for Ireland and Britain.

Cyclones typically form over the north Atlantic and travel eastwards towards us. Their number and intensity each year has a significant influence on the amount of rainfall and extreme wind speeds.

Frequency and intensity

Although previous winters had more frequent storms or storms that were more intense, “no year in the 143-year record endured a winter as severe as 2013-2014 when both the frequency and intensity of storms are combined”.

Dr Tom Matthews, lecturer in geography at NUI Maynooth, said the research was “inspired by the severe weather we experienced last winter”. They decided to assess whether these conditions were unusual in the long-term context.

“This is an important task as such destructive weather events are of tremendous societal significance, as we saw last winter in both Ireland and the UK,” he said. This would include the cost of repairing the damage caused by storms.

Dr Conor Murphy said: “The exceptional nature of last winter’s storminess emphasises the importance of understanding the processes driving such extremes, particularly in light of projections of increased cyclone activity in this part of the Atlantic.”

The research was carried out by Dr Matthews, Dr Murphy and doctoral scholar Shaun Harrigan from NUI Maynooth’s Irish Climate Analysis and Research Unit (Icarus), with Prof Rob Wilby, of Loughborough University in England. It is published in the September issue of Nature Climate Change Journal.