Thursday 8 December 2016

We can't ignore fact that winter storms are getting longer and more damaging

Dr Kieran Hickey

Published 04/01/2014 | 02:30

Waves crash on to the Coast Road in Malahide, Co Dublin, yesterday. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Waves crash on to the Coast Road in Malahide, Co Dublin, yesterday. Brian Lawless/PA Wire

In the past two weeks, Ireland has experienced three very large and damaging Atlantic storms. All three storms have generated gusts well in excess of 100km/h and have caused a very small number of fatalities and injuries along with significant power outages, structural damage, coastal flooding and some river flooding, leading to widespread disruption.

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The recurrent coastal flooding is a result of a combination of high spring tides, a storm surge consisting of a wall of water being pushed in front of the storm by the high winds and the reduction in atmospheric pressure causing the water column to expand upwards -- and on top of that, big waves that easily crash over coastal defences.

Some of the river flooding is due to the high rainfall associated with big Atlantic gales but also due to rivers not being able to discharge their water into the sea as they are effectively blocked by the incoming storm surge causing the water to back up the river channels. In addition, these storms were of relatively long duration, with gale-force winds and gale gusts occurring for many hours. So what's going on?

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