Ireland’s worst storm damage on record was in 2014

Storm Darwin’s devastating impact may have been due to a ‘sting jet’, expert says

The flooded quayside at Kinvara, Co Galway, during the 2013-2014 winter storms. File photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

The flooded quayside at Kinvara, Co Galway, during the 2013-2014 winter storms. File photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

Ireland’s worst storm on meteorological record is still the “Big Wind” of 1839, but the high winds of February 2014 may have caused the most damage, an expert has said.

University College Cork (UCC) geographer Dr Kieran Hickey said a “sting jet” may explain why Storm Darwin on February 12th, 2014, caused such devastation.

Dr Hickey, who made the claims during an address at an Irish Maritime History conference at UCC, explained that a “sting jet” is a jet of air which builds up several kilometres above the ground before descending over three or four hours in a “crescent moon” shape.

It can accelerate to more than 161km/h and can be exacerbated by snow or rain cooling it as it descends.

“Its three-dimensional shape can generate a lot of damage, as opposed to more lateral winds,” Dr Hickey said.

During Storm Darwin, the Kinsale gas platform off the Cork coast was hit by a 25m -high wave – the biggest instrumental record of a wave in Irish waters, Dr Hickey said.

Shannon Airport recorded a maximum gust of 160km/h on that day, while more than 215,000 homes lost power.

There was also extensive coastal flooding and damage to buildings.

Up to 7.5 million trees were blown down – between 5,000 and 7,000 hectares of forestry - which was about one per cent of the national total.

Storm Darwin was one in a series of nine storms between 2013 and 2014 which caused at least five fatalities and hundreds of millions of euro in damage.

Experts believe they may have been caused by the jet stream.

“Why the jet stream behaved in such a manner is a big question, perhaps due to loss of Arctic sea ice altering the climate of the northern half of the north Atlantic,” Dr Hickey said.

The storm of January 6th, 2014, was the worst “meteorologically” on record since the “Big Wind” of 1839, Dr Hickey said.

The 1839 event may have claimed more than 500 lives, including losses at sea.

Dr Hickey said accurate records are only available from the 1860s.

Wind speeds

Dr Hickey said there had been a general decline in northwest European wind speeds throughout the 20th-century, with the exception of a peak in the early- to mid-1990s.

However, the stormy winters of 2013 and 2014 may presage an upward trend.

Ireland is still “radically under-prepared” for what could be a major meteorological event every six to eight months, Dr Hickey said.

“Our major cities are all on vulnerable coastal areas, and all the while we have a rising sea level which is now at about 3.4mm per year,” he said.