(Bloomberg) -- Hurricane Lorenzo, the largest storm ever to roam the Eastern Atlantic, is forecast to strike the heart of Ireland’s west coast within days carrying tropical-strength winds, driving rain and a huge storm surge.
Once a Category 5 storm with 160 mile (257 kilometer) an hour winds, Lorenzo has lost some of its fury. But as its winds have ebbed to around 90 mph, it has swelled in size. It now extends 390 miles from its center, with hurricane force winds reaching 150 miles. That’s a record for that part of the Atlantic, said Phil Klotzbach, a researcher at Colorado State University.
Hurricane-force winds are hitting western Azores, with tropical-storm conditions occurring over central Azores, according to a 2 a.m. Atlantic standard time advisory by the U.S. National Hurricane Center. The storm was initially forecast to graze Ireland, but the latest track shows an eastern bend that has it striking between Sligo and Galway. The storm’s size likely guarantees a powerful impact on a country that’s only 171 miles at its widest point.
“This thing is huge,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground, an IBM business, by telephone. “That is a massive wind field and a massive wave field. It is going to cause impacts.”
Lorenzo is traveling at about 40 mph. It will likely cause problems for ships and off-shore energy facilities in Ireland and the U.K., said Jim Rouiller, chief meteorologist at the Energy Weather Group outside Philadelphia.
“For a lot of energy production there could be a detrimental impact,” Rouiller said by telephone. “There is going to be tremendous wave heights, as well as wind and everything associated with it as the hurricane transitions into a storm.”
So far this year, the Atlantic has produced 12 storms, the number usually seen in an average season. Two of those storms reached Category 5 strength -- Hurricane Dorian last month, and now Lorenzo. Forecasters are watching two more disturbances near the Caribbean that could become storms.
The six-month hurricane season is in its most active phase, and officially ends on Nov. 30.
It’s the third time in three years Europe, a continent not historically known for its hurricane strikes, has been hit by major storms.
In 2017, Hurricane Ophelia became a post-tropical storm as it came ashore near Valentia Island in County Kerry, Ireland, killing three people, causing power outages, ripping off roofs and toppling trees. Last year, Hurricane Leslie nearly made it to Portugal before becoming a hybrid storm and flooding France with heavy rains.
The Atlantic’s waters are warmer due to a nasty combination of factors. The ocean undergoes a natural temperature variability over time that forecasters call the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation. At the same time, the effects of global warming are kicking in, said Dan Kottlowski, a hurricane forecaster at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.
“Thirty years ago there is no way that most of these storms would have come as strong,” Kottlowski said by telephone. “The longer the Atlantic stays warm, the more we will see these monsters developing.”
A similar thing is happening in the Pacific, according to Weather Underground’s Masters. Hawaii, which for years saw few hurricanes, has been hit, grazed or narrowly missed by an increasing number of storms. In both cases, ocean heat deserves much of the blame, he said.
“This is to be expected if you are going to heat the oceans up,” Masters said. “An extra degree of warming makes all the difference when you are near 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the cut off.”
(Updates with latest advisory from U.S. National Hurricane Center.)
--With assistance from Serene Cheong.
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