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Climate change is increasing risk of extreme storms

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The prom in Lahinch, Co Clare, was damaged in last year's storms that hit the West coast. Photo: Gavin Gallagher

The prom in Lahinch, Co Clare, was damaged in last year's storms that hit the West coast. Photo: Gavin Gallagher

The prom in Lahinch, Co Clare, was damaged in last year's storms that hit the West coast. Photo: Gavin Gallagher

LAST winter's extreme storms which caused devastation across the country were made more likely because of climate change.

New research from the University of Oxford suggests that greenhouse gas emissions released through industry, transport and agriculture have increased the likelihood of extreme storms by as much as 25pc.

And Professor Myles Allen, a leader of the 'Climate Prediction' project, said that as average global temperatures rise, the risk of more extreme weather will also increase.

Speaking in advance of a climate change lecture organised by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), he said that rising greenhouse gas emissions were "having an impact".

"The question arose last winter if climate change had a role. It is a difficult question to answer. There has been extreme storms in the past, like (The Night of the Big Wind) in 1839, but can we say that rising greenhouse gas emissions are having an impact?

"We believe there has been a 25pc increase in the risk of extreme wind events. Instead of being a risk of one in 100 of it happening in a year, it's now one in 80. Most impacts of climate change will be subtle changes in risk. 25pc is subtle, but real."

Climatologists at Maynooth University have said that last winter was the stormiest since records began more than 140 years ago given the frequency and intensity of the storms.

Met Eireann said there was an "exceptional run of winter storms" which resulted in serious coastal damage and "widespread, persistent flooding". Storm-force winds occurred on 12 different days, while rainfall was up to twice normal levels in some parts of the country.

The storms were exacerbated by very high tides, and some €160m worth of damage was caused.

Researchers in Oxford ran "tens of thousands" of computer simulations using data from storms over last winter, and the preliminary results found that human activity and emissions were increasing the risk of higher wind speeds.

Professor Allen told the Irish Independent that the likelihood of more extreme events occurring in the future would increase as global temperatures rise. They have already increased by 0.8C over pre-industrial temperatures, and scientists believe rises must be kept to within 2C to avoid catastrophe.

"Without this research, we can only make vague statements like, 'These are the likely effects...' In this particular part of the world, human influence on climate increased the risk of wind speed."

He added that some extreme weather events had "nothing" to do with climate change.

Irish Independent