A POTENTIALLY devastating series of major storms are brewing in the Atlantic and lining up to lash Ireland next week.
The first of the necklace of low pressure weather systems that will bring torrential rain and gale force winds will arrive on Tuesday – and they will continue to batter the country until Friday.
Flood alerts and wind safety warnings have been issued as Ireland braces itself for more Atlantic super-storms and the ninth week of persistent rain.
Now the flooding threat is focused on Irish rivers – especially the slow-moving major waterways of the Shannon, Nore, Blackwater, Suir, Barrow and Slaney.
Those river systems, already at tipping point and engorged with more than nine weeks of rainfall, are the focus of the emergency response this weekend.
But smaller faster running streams and rivers could claim lives. Though they "clear" quickly, they can become raging torrents within 30 minutes after a localised deluge.
Clare County Council confirmed last night that all river systems throughout the county are "very elevated".
The local authority is now convinced significant areas will be flooded.
"Areas in South East Clare which are in the zone of influence of the River Shannon are particularly vulnerable. People in all areas which have previously flooded should be vigilant and should take appropriate precautions."
"The council is closely monitoring the situation particularly in South East Clare and Ennis," they said.
Spring tides have eased, bringing respite to coastal communities battered in the last two weeks, although gale force winds may still cause some coastal flooding.
Ger Fleming of Met Eireann told the Irish Independent that the low pressure system that brought rains, first to Munster, and then most of the country last night will sit over the country until tomorrow and generate intense showers and downpours throughout the weekend.
"From 6pm Friday to 6pm on Sunday we would anticipate that, especially Munster, will get 40 to 50mm of rain. Munster is the area which will get the worst of it."
With winds expected to gust to more than 70kph today several major facilities took the decision to close on safety grounds.
Fota Wildlife Park in Cork said the potential threat of falling trees prompted them to close today though they will re-open tomorrow.
Met Eireann admitted Ireland hasn't suffered such a sustained period of severe Atlantic storms since the late 90s.
Torrential rainfall over the weekend will be followed by further heavy rain and strong winds from Tuesday which will continue until Friday.
And experts have now warned it is only a matter of time before major rivers break their banks.
Both Limerick and Cork city suffered over €50m worth of flood damage in 36 hours in recent days.
Councils, gardai and Irish Water Safety have pleaded with people to stay away from swollen streams and rivers – and to be particularly vigilant with children near waterways. The army is also on standby.
Flood alerts remain in place in 12 counties and major flood alerts remain in place for Enniscorthy, Fermoy, Bandon, Athy, Athlone and other towns in the Shannon basin.
Limerick County Council engineers warned that there is now a serious threat of localised flooding upstream of Limerick city.
Council services director, Paul Crowe, said that saturated rivers and streams may be unable to cope with the torrential rainfall forecast for the next 36-48 hours.
"We are also in constant contact with the ESB regarding the elevated water levels on the Lower River Shannon."
In Cork, the Blackwater and Lee are being monitored on an hourly basis with the greatest flooding concern switching away from Cork city towards regional towns including Fermoy, Bandon, Clonakilty, Carrigaline and Cobh.
Cobh residents warned that emergency works are required after the town was virtually cut-off twice in the space of 36 hours last week when Belvelly Bridge flooded.
The bridge is the only access to Great Island, on which Cobh is built, from the mainland.
For almost an hour last Monday the cross-river ferry couldn't operate and Belvelly Bridge was impassable to ordinary vehicles due to flooding.
A special 4x4 ambulance remains on standby in case of an emergency call out.
The extreme weather is also having a devastating impact on Ireland's coastal fishermen who operate from vessels under 15m in length. Virtually the entire fleet has been kept in port for the past fortnight given the storms raging off the coast.
The Irish Red Cross has indicated it hopes to be able to provide up to €1,000 per household for families in dire need due to flood damage.
The charity has appealed for public support for those who have borne the brunt of flood-related damage since Christmas.