Ireland is bracing itself for the tropical storm Ophelia with a red weather warning issued for the Republic and an amber warning issued for Northern Ireland.
Education officials have ordered the closure of all educational facilities across the island. A statement from Ireland’s education department said the closures were necessary following official advice on the “unprecedented storm”.
Met Éireann – the Republic’s weather service – warned on Sunday night that lives could be in danger as Ophelia hits the country’s Atlantic coast with winds of up to 100mph.
Red alert is the highest warning Met Éireann can issue.
A Met Éireann spokesperson said on Sunday: “Ophelia is forecast to track directly over Ireland during the daytime tomorrow.
“Violent and destructive gusts are forecast with all areas at risk and in particular the south-west and south in the morning, and eastern counties in the afternoon.
“Heavy rain and storm surges along some coasts will result in flooding. There is potential risk to lives.”
The eye of the storm was around 300km off the south-west coast of Ireland at 5am, moving at 70kmh, was expected to bring “strong winds to Ireland and the UK” on Monday, according to US hurricane forecasters. They added that Ophelia had been downgraded from a hurricane to a “post-tropical cyclone” overnight.
To underline the serious risk Ophelia poses to public safety, Met Éireann also warned that it could be as bad the 1961 Hurricane Debbie, the most powerful cyclone ever to hit Ireland, which caused 18 deaths.
Joanna Donnelly, a Met Éireann meteorologist, told viewers during Sunday night’s weather forecast on RTE television that “this is not the remnants of a hurricane – this is a hurricane”.
As well as the nationwide closure of schools and colleges, court sittings in the counties expected to be battered most by Ophelia have been cancelled.
The Irish coastguard has advised the public to avoid any visits or walks to coastal or cliff areas. The country’s national emergency coordination committee, which met earlier on Sunday, has also advised cyclists not to go out on their bikes.
Stena Line has cancelled ferries on its Dublin to Holyhead, Rosslare to Fishguard and Belfast to Liverpool sailings. At least 50 Aer Lingus flights out of Ireland on Monday have also been cancelled.
The Irish Defence Forces have been put on standby to help out with flood defences and any potential evacuations.
In Northern Ireland the Met Office in the region said there could be winds of up to 80mph in the south-east on Monday.
John Wylie, a Met Office spokesman, said: “The Met Office has issued an amber warning. That means a greater likelihood of damaging winds through the latter part of Monday afternoon and evening, particularly for the evening rush hours.”
“There is the potential for damage to trees, there could be a danger to life from flying debris.”
Northern Ireland Electricity said it has engineering crews on standby to deal with potential outages caused by the storm.