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Earth and Planetary Sciences » Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences » "Advances in Hurricane Research - Modelling, Meteorology, Preparedness and Impacts", book edited by Kieran Hickey, ISBN 978-953-51-0867-2, Published: December 5, 2012 under CC BY 3.0 license. © The Author(s).

# The Impact of Hurricane Debbie (1961) and Hurricane Charley (1986) on Ireland

By Kieran R. Hickey and Christina Connolly-Johnston
DOI: 10.5772/54039

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## Overview

Figure 1. The track of Hurricane Debbie over Ireland, September 16th, 1961

Figure 2. The track of Hurricane Charley over Ireland, 25th August 1986.

Figure 3. Comparison of the Sustained Hourly Wind Speed of Hurricane Debbie 16th September 1961 for Valentia Observatory and Malin Head Meteorological Stations

Figure 4. Sustained Hourly Wind Speed of the tail-end of Hurricane Charley on 25th of August 1986 from Valentia Observatory

Figure 5. Hourly Rainfall at Valentia Observatory and Malin Head from Hurricane Debbie 15th-17th September 1961

Figure 6. Hourly Rainfall at Valentia Observatory, Dublin Airport and Casement Aerodrome from the tail-end of Hurricane Charley 24th-26th August 1986

# The Impact of Hurricane Debbie (1961) and Hurricane Charley (1986) on Ireland

Kieran R. Hickey1 and Christina Connolly-Johnston1

## 1. Introduction

Ireland has long been in receipt of the tail-end of a small number of Atlantic hurricanes and is the most affected country in Europe by these storms. Although almost never actual hurricanes by the time they reach Ireland, they have still caused loss of life, injuries and extensive damage through high winds, heavy rainfall and storm surges along the coast. Little research has been carried out on these events until recently and their effects have been subsumed into the general mid-latitude storm record [1].

The chapter will investigate and analyse in detail the impact of the worst two hurricane events or tail-ends to affect Ireland over the last 50 years as both storms caused fatalities and injuries and extensive damage across the island of Ireland. In addition Hurricane Debbie in 1961 is the only hurricane to have ever made landfall in Ireland (as a Category 1 event) that is known about, although ongoing research into the historical records of North Atlantic may reveal others, especially in the pre-weather satellite era. Hurricane Charley in 1986 was the tail-end of a hurricane when it hit Ireland, but was considered an extra tropical storm no when it passed by the south coast of Ireland.

In detail this chapter will provide a detailed assessment and analysis of these two events. Firstly it will assess the generation and tracks of the hurricanes. This will be done in the context of Hickey’s assessment [2]. The meteorological effects of the two events will be systematically analysed as they passed over the country using hourly data from the relevant meteorological stations around the island of Ireland. The impact of the two events will be assessed using a wide variety of sources including local, regional and national media, local and national government records amongst others. This approach will also help to provide the first meaningful estimates of the financial cost of these two events on Ireland.

## 2. Data sources

Meteorological information was derived from existing meteorological stations in Ireland as well as satellite imagery of Hurricane Charley in 1986. No such imagery exists for Hurricane Debbie in 1961. Hourly wind data and other parameters were analysed by event.

The information on the impact of events were gleaned from a wide variety of local and national newspaper sources throughout Ireland with special emphasis on the local newspapers in the worst affected areas of the country. As a result of the number of fatalities and the scale of damage both events generated considerable media coverage. The information from these sources was analysed according to type of damage and the exact location where they occurred. The newspapers consulted included the Anglo-Celt, Connacht Tribune, Connaught Telegraph, Irish Independent, Irish Press, Munster Express, Sunday Independent, The Kerryman, Western People and Westmeath Examiner.

## 3. Meteorological analysis

### 3.1. Origin and track

Hurricane Debbie initially formed as a storm west of Africa on the 7th September 1961 and immediately started moving westwards and intensifying and was given hurricane status on the 11th of September and quickly reached Category 3 intensity with maximum wind speeds of 195 km/h. On the 15th of September the hurricane turned northwards off Cape Verde Islands and then headed northeastwards heading towards Ireland and Europe. It made landfall in Dooega on Achill Island, Co. Mayo off the west coast of Ireland on the 16th of September but passed back out into the Atlantic before tracking along the coast of Scotland and then Norway and finally dissipating over Russia (Fig 1). This hurricane had no effects on the eastern side of the Atlantic which is somewhat unusual but is considered a major contributor to the plane crash on the Cape Verde Islands which cost the lives of 60 people [3,4].

## 9. Discussion and conclusions

One of the key results that has emerged from the detailed examination of the impact of Hurricane Debbie and the tail-end of Hurricane Charley is that each had its own unique character. Debbie was very much associated with wind damage and set new wind records for Ireland, some of which still stand today whereas Charley was very much a flood damage event due to the exceptional and again record breaking rainfall. In many respects the two events represent two extremes of the possible types of meteorological effects of the tail-end of a hurricane on Ireland and Europe. Worryingly for Ireland would be the case where an event occurred that contained both exceptionally high winds and exceptionally high rainfall. This could have a devastating impact not just on Ireland but probably on other parts of Europe as well.

However, it is very hard to consider how likely this perfect tail-end/hurricane is to occur for a number of reasons. Firstly, not enough research has been carried out on past Irish storm records, in particular there is a need to focus on unusually severe storms that affected Ireland over the last several hundred years during the months of August, September and October and which may have been mistakenly identified as early mid-latitude storms and not ones of tropical origin. Irish storm records go back to the first millennium AD due to the survival of a number of monastic Irish Annals covering this time period up to the middle of the second millennium. These annals record significant weather events including major devastating storms, a few of which might be hurricane in origin.

Secondly, even if potential tail-end of hurricanes or hurricanes themselves were identified, there would be enormous difficulties in categorically proving their tropical origin or at least producing enough evidence to suggest that this was even likely, and in many cases no definitive proof would ever be found particularly events that would predate AD 1800 and especially AD 1700.

Consideration must also be given to rising sea-surface temperatures in the tropics and how this will gradually enlarge the areas lattitudinally where hurricanes could potentially form. This has huge implications for the potential loss of life and damage in tropical areas and this in turn will also have a potentially significant impact on the frequency of the tail-ends of hurricanes and hurricanes themselves reaching and affecting Ireland and Europe. In addition their intensity may be increased as well leading to greater damage and destruction and the potential for more loss of life and injuries. As a result more attention needs to be paid to these events and the frequency with which they affect Western Europe. However, at present modeling of likely future hurricane activity has failed to indicate any significant increase or decrease but it is noted that much research needs to be carried out particularly in dealing with the chaotic nature of the climate system and in the response of the climate to radiative forcing in order to develop much more suitable models for prediction [33].

It is clear that the potential impact of the tail-ends of hurricanes or hurricanes themselves on both Ireland and Europe should not be underestimated as the impacts of Hurricane Debbie and the tail-end of Hurricane Charley on Ireland has shown. Loss of life and injuries can be more severe and greater than that of mid-latitude storms and the potential scale of damage and destruction can be very significant whether through wind damage or flooding or a combination of both.

More recently in 2012 the impact of tail-end of Hurricane Katia on Ireland and Europe with one fatality and extensive damage stretching from Ireland to Russia and the impact of the tail-end of Hurricane Ophelia also in 2012 which brought bad weather to Europe shows that the threat remains ever present. With rising sea surface temperatures in the tropics in the Atlantic the potential threat of more of these events reaching Ireland and Europe cannot be ignored even though there will still be clusters of years when no tail-ends will reach as far northwards [34].

Future research will focus on identifying the hurricane component of the Irish storm record and in doing so identify what contribution the tail-ends of hurricanes and even hurricanes themselves make to precipitation and wind receipt in Ireland and disentangle these much rarer events from the normal mid-latitude storm signal.

## Acknowledgements

My thanks to Dr. Siubhán Comer for drawing the maps and to Met Éireann for the hourly wind and rain data.

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