A status red weather warning has been issued for counties Galway and Clare for Saturday afternoon as Storm Jorge crosses the country.
Status red weather warnings are rarely issued and call on people to take “necessary action” to protect themselves and their properties.
Met Éireann has said people should "stop everything" and stay indoors during the red alert.
Forecaster Gerry Murphy told RTÉ Six One news that people should take "full precautions" during the storm which will bring "extremely strong winds" and "extremely damaging gusts" across the country.
“The red level warning is the highest level warning, it is a warning to basically stop any activities and stay out from the weather,” said Mr Murphy. “Most especially in the western half of Galway, especially in the coastal areas, those winds will be extremely severe.”
Storm Jorge is set to bring stronger winds than storms Dennis and Ciara which hit the country earlier this month.
These “very severe winds” are expected to reach mean speeds of 85 to 100km/h in places on Saturday afternoon and gusts of 130 to 145km/h.
There will also be an elevated risk of coastal flooding, said the forecaster.
Met Éireann’s red wind warning is valid for Galway and Clare from 1pm on Saturday until 4pm on Saturday.
The red alert is one of several weather warnings issued by the forecaster for this weekend. There are also orange wind warnings for several counties as well as a status yellow rainfall warning for Munster, Connacht and Donegal.
The public has been warned of the prospect of coastal and further inland flooding, thousands of power outages and fallen trees as Storm Jorge is due to batter the country.
An orange wind warning has been issued for counties Galway, Mayo, Clare, and Kerry from 6am on Saturday until 3am on Sunday while a separate orange warning is in place for Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo from midday on Saturday until 3am on Sunday.
A status orange wind warning is in place for Leinster, Cavan, Monaghan, Roscommon, Cork, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford which is valid between 1pm and 7pm on Saturday.
Status orange weather warnings are given when conditions could “significantly impact people, property and activity in an area,” according to Met Éireann. “People in the affected areas should prepare appropriately now for the anticipated conditions.”
Separately, a status yellow rainfall warning is already in place for Munster, Connacht and Donegal and is valid until midnight on Saturday.
A second status yellow wind warning has also been issued for Leinster, Cavan, Monaghan, Roscommon, Cork, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford which is valid from 9am to 1pm on Saturday and again from 7pm on Saturday until midnight on Saturday.
Rainfall accumulations of between 20 and 30 millimetres are expected during Friday and Saturday generally but 40 to 50 mm of rain could fall in mountainous areas with a continuing risk of flooding.
Wettest month on record
A status red marine warning is in place with southwest gale force eight to nine winds developing on Friday night on coastal waters from Mizen Head to Slyne Head to Rossan Point.
Winds will veer westerly on Saturday morning and increase to storm force 10 and occasionally to “violent storm force 11”.
Keith Leonard, national director for fire and emergency management, said "life safety" remains the "key priority" over the next 48 hours.
Mr Leonard was speaking following a meeting of the National Emergency Coordination group on Friday. He urged the public to take heed of warnings from local authorities and to check in on "vulnerable and isolated neighbours" before the storm commences.
Evelyn Cusack, head of forecasting at Met Éireann said there has been twice the average amount of rainfall for February, and in some places up to three times the average.
"It's the wettest February on record so far at several of our stations, including the Phoenix Park, which goes back to the 1800s and several stations in Mayo and Limerick as well," she said.
Ms Cusack said Saturday will be “a stormy day” with heavy showers as well as a “big drop” in temperatures.
Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said people in coastal areas need to "stay back, stay high and stay dry".
“We’re going to see stormy conditions on land across the country with snowfall in places as well as thunderstorms,” he said. “Damaging gusts are possible anywhere. This means that trees could be down anywhere.”
Paddy Mahon, chief executive of Longford County Council said 11 commercial properties and 25 homes are inaccessible in Co Leitrim due to recent flooding. He said there are "a number of properties" also inaccessible in Co Offaly.
“The water level of the Shannon seems to have flat lined over the last week,” he said.
“Hopefully it doesn’t get any higher, if it does there could be serious issues.”
Derek Hynes from ESB Networks said additional crews will be deployed to Galway, Clare, Limerick and Athlone this weekend. Mr Hynes said the last three storms resulted in 10,000 to 40,000 power outages and they are "expecting something similar".
PJ Claffey from the Health and Safety Authority said local authority staff and other personnel had been manning pumps "24/7" in recent weeks and that tiredness and exhaustion is "a big issue".
The Defence Forces has deployed 209 personnel around the country since February 24th to assist local authorities with flooding. There are 29 personnel currently deployed in the Castleconnell area of Co Limerick.
Superintendent Liam Geraghty warned the public against "trying to get that fantastic photograph for social media".
He appealed to people “to reassess your plans for this weekend” and not to make unnecessary journeys.
Westmeath County Council said on Friday evening that water levels in the River Shannon are continuing to rise in the Athlone area, albeit at a slower rate than previous days.
“The council is in receipt of an ESB forecast of river levels for the next four days and this is indicating that the River Shannon in Athlone will continue to rise up to Sunday ... the highest predicted level is ... approximately 4cm above current levels,” it said.
“The combination of permanent and temporary flood defences in Athlone town is proving to be effective in preventing significant flooding and it is anticipated that the predicted rise of 6cm by Sunday 1 March will not cause major difficulties in the town,” it added.
“However, the inundation of rural areas adjacent to the Shannon is causing major issues for rural residents and farmers. Assistance is being provided to people in these areas and this will be widened as the need arises in terms of transport and other services over the coming days”.
Galway City Council said on Friday evening it has put various measures in place including reactivating the inflatable water dam at Spanish Parade and will close car parks at Toft Park and the promenade in Salthill throughout Saturday.
“The promenade will remain open only as long as it is safe and will almost certainly be closed to traffic during the status red period,” it said in a statement.
It added that various Galway City Council facilities will be closed on Saturday including Leisureland, cemeteries at Rahoon and Bohermore, Galway City Museum at Spanish Parade, and all Galway City Council playing pitches and community centres will cease operation from 12.30pm.
Druid Theatre Company’s matinees performance at the Black Box Theatre scheduled for 3pm has been cancelled. The evening performance at 8pm will go ahead.
The Road Safety Authority urged road users not to make any non-essential journeys in the affected areas during the storm window from 1pm -4pm Saturday.
It also urged road users to be on guard for dangers posed by hazards following the extreme weather such as downed pylons lines, trees and branches.
The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht announced a number of national parks will be closed due to the weather warnings. These include:
- Connemara National Park;
- Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park;
- Derryclare Nature Reserve;
- Old Head Nature Reserve;
- Knochma Wood, near Tuam, Co Galway;
- Laughil Wood, near Pontoon, Co Mayo;
- Killarney House and Gardens, Co Kerry;
- Muckross House, Co Kerry;
- Coole/Garryland Nature Reserve;
- Dromore Woods Nature Reserve, Co Clare;
- Burren National Park.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has asked that the public for personal safety reasons to avoid wooded areas of Killarney National Park in particular and to exercise caution in other areas of the park for the duration of the current wind warning.
The public is also asked not to visit Wicklow Mountains National Park or the following Woodland Nature Reserves while the warning is in place:
- Wicklow – Knocksink Wood, Glen of the Down, Deputy's Pass, Clara Vale, Tomnafinogue Wood;
- Wexford – The Raven Wood, Wexford Wildfowl Reserve;
- Kilkenny – Ballykeefe Wood, Kyledohir, Garryricken Wood;
- Laois – Grantstown Wood and Lake, Coolacurragh Wood, Clonaslee Wood.