How bad is Storm Eunice – and is it a result of climate breakdown?

A rare red warning has been issued as back-to-back storms sweep the UK

Storm Eunice is battering parts of the UK, felling trees and scattering roof tiles as forecasters warn of a “significant threat to life”. But is it caused by climate breakdown, and can we expect an increase in such disruptive storms?

Where has the storm come from?

Eunice brewed in the central Atlantic and was spun up from the Azores towards Europe by the jet stream.

Is it a particularly bad storm?

Yes, gusts of up to 110mph have been recorded at the Needles lighthouse on the Isle of Wight. This has exceeded the prediction of 90mph winds, and is just under the record 120mph winds that hit during the devastating storm of 1987, during which 18 people died in one day.

The Met Office says Eunice has the potential to be the worst storm since then. A rare red alert has been issued by the Met Office, with people asked to stay at home if they can. The government has convened Cobra to discuss response to the likely devastation ahead.

Prof Hannah Cloke, a professor of hydrology at the University of Reading, said: “The Met Office red and amber warnings for high winds should not be taken lightly. Red means you need to act now because there is an imminent danger to life. Everyone who lives or works in those areas should be battening down the hatches, literally in some cases, to prevent people from being killed and injured and to protect your homes and businesses.

“Let us be clear what this means. Winds of 70mph will uproot trees, which can block roads and crush cars or buildings. They can pick up roof tiles and hurl them around. If you are hit by one of those you will be seriously hurt or killed. Wind that strong will sweep people and vehicles off streets, and topple electricity lines. Do not take any chances. Stay inside.”

There is talk of a deadly ‘sting jet’ coming with the storm, but what is that?

Met Office scientists have said one of these can form. Matt Priestley, a research scientist at the University of Exeter, looking at storm tracks and extratropical cyclones, said they were small areas of very intense winds within a storm’s cyclone that were hard to predict.

“They are generally about 10-20km wide and are generated by specific instabilities within the flight lines of storms and cause very high wind speeds.

“They’re not a feature of all storms. They’re often just a feature of the most intense ones like Storm Eunice. The fact that they are such small scale but can have such high wind speeds makes forecasting them very, very difficult.”

Is Eunice linked to climate breakdown?

Michael Dukes, a forecaster at MetDesk, said it could be. He explained: “Although it is hard to pinpoint climate change as a reason for individual severe weather events, climate models do indicate an increase in these type of storms as the earth continues to slowly warm. So this is very much in line with what climate scientists have been warning us about for a number of years now.”

While there is dispute between scientists over whether the storms themselves are likely to increase and become stronger, most agree that the climate crisis will make their impacts worse.

The German climatologist Friederike Otto, who leads the pioneering World Weather Attribution service on whether droughts, big storms or heatwaves were made more likely by the climate emergency, said there was “very little evidence that winds in these winter storms have gotten stronger with climate change”.

She said: “Nevertheless the damages of winter storms have gotten worse because of human-caused climate change for two reasons: one, the rainfall associated with these winter storms has become more intense, and many studies link this clearly to climate change; and two, because of sea-level rise, storm surges are higher and thus more damaging than they would otherwise be.”

Richard Allan, a professor of climate science at the University of Reading, said: “Once-in-a-decade storms like Eunice are certain to batter the British Isles in the future but there is no compelling evidence that they will become more frequent or potent in terms of wind speeds.

“Yet with more intense rainfall and higher sea levels as human-caused climate change continues to heat the planet, flooding from coastal storm surges and prolonged deluges will worsen still further when these rare, explosive storms hit us in a warmer world.”


Helena Horton and Patrick Greenfield

The GuardianTramp

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