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Wednesday 23 October 2019

Storm Lorenzo: Status Orange warning issued for six counties as experts warn 'nowhere will escape effects'

  • Warnings in place from 9am Thursday
  • Hurricane will become a tropical storm by tomorrow
  • Airport warn customers to check for disruptions
  • Crisis management teams 'ready to go'
  • Department of Education tells schools along the west coast to 'err on the side of caution'
  • Walkers advised to avoid any exposed areas, including seafront walkways, as they may be hit by sudden gusts
01/10/19 High seas and winds pictured on Howth pier. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
01/10/19 High seas and winds pictured on Howth pier. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Wave power: high waves hammer Skerries, Co Dublin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Rachel Farrell, Helen Weston, Ralph Riegel and Caroline O'Doherty

TROPICAL storm Lorenzo will bring a significant threat of damage and flooding and nowhere can expect to escape its effects totally, experts have warned today.

The National Emergency Coordination Group on Severe Weather has today issued its latest alert on the storm due to hit Ireland tomorrow afternoon.

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The area from south county Cork through counties Kerry, Clare, Limerick, Galway and Mayo are currently classified as status orange warning areas, with the rest of the country in the status yellow bracket.

But with Storm Force 11 gusts possible there is a risk of trees falling in any part of the country.

And the south west, west and north west coasts will see large sea swells and waves driven against the shores tomorrow night.

The Department of Education has told schools and other educational institutions along the west coast to "err on the side of caution" in the  face of approaching Storm Lorenzo.

A decision to close is up to individual schools or other educational institutions, the Department has confirmed.

With a Status Orange storm warning in palace from 6pm Thursday until 3am Friday, in Galway, Mayo, Clare, Cork, Kerry and Limerick, the Department said all education centres should remain vigilant.

"Any and all decisions about school closures will be informed by, as well as prevailing and predicted conditions, any damage that might have been caused to school buildings overnight or at any time during the storm, and whether such damage –where it exists – might present a risk to safety.

"Similarly other education settings should make closure decisions based on those considerations."

Hurricane Lorenzo's latest predicted path across Ireland. Photo: Met Éireann
Hurricane Lorenzo's latest predicted path across Ireland. Photo: Met Éireann

The Department added that it would continue to monitor the situation as it progresses and will follow any advice from the National Emergency Coordination Group.

Evelyn Cusack from Met Eireann today told how Storm Lorenzo is tracking north east and transitioning from being a hurricane into a storm as it crosses from warm waters to cooler waters nearer Europe.

"There will be very low air pressure in the storm, which means there is little weight in the air pushing down on the sea, so sea levels rise. That combined with high tide, onshore gale force eight to storm force ten winds, and storm force eleven winds for a time on Thursday evening,  is all pushing against the south west, west, and north west coast. So there is likely to be coastal flooding and coastal damage," she explained.

"It will be a short event but there is likely to be heavy pockets of rain and as the storm is of tropical origin there will be some thunderstorm activity and lightning," Ms Cusack added.

She also warned that even though the midlands, south east, east and north of the country are currently classified as status yellow areas there are risks from the wind and rain that are forecast.

"With the ground already waterlogged from rain in the last few days, as well as the fact that the trees still have their leaves, it makes the risks of trees falling greater," she explained.

Closing in: Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and Met Éireann’s Evelyn Cusack track Hurricane Lorenzo’s progress. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Closing in: Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and Met Éireann’s Evelyn Cusack track Hurricane Lorenzo’s progress. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Ms Cusack did not rule out status red level conditions in some localised coastal areas. The National Emergency Coordination Group continues to monitor Storm Lorenzo, and a further update will be issued tomorrow morning as it is about to hit.

The UK Met Office has issued a Yellow wind warning for parts of Northern Ireland, including Derry and Newry, from 3pm until 10pm on Thursday.

Jim Casey from the Office of Public Works (OPW) said with high tide due around 9pm tomorrow there could be situations of rising sea levels and sea swells over-topping some coastal walls.

He said they were not expecting a major impact of sea flooding on the east coast but the situation is being constantly monitored.

Advice being given to households, especially those in the Status Orange areas, was to ensure phones were charged in advance of the storm, torches fitted with fresh batteries, and that people have their Eircode and their unique MPRN number for electricity supply to hand in case they had to contact emergency services or report a power failure.

People on shared water schemes that could become compromised were also advised to stock up on water, especially drinking water, before the storm.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Irish Coast Guard said all transport operators remain in a "state of preparedness" in expectation of the Storm Lorenzo's arrival. They confirmed that their crisis management plans have been activated.

They advised that;

  • Members of the public are being urged to remain aware of local conditions by checking MetÉireann.ie, their Local Authority website, and local radio for information during the severe weather.
  • Roads users should exercise caution while using the roads and heed the advice of both an Garda Síochána and the Road Safety Authority when travelling during the severe weather.
  • Transport users are advised to check transport operator websites and social media sites for any travel updates. Those who are travelling by air are encouraged to check with their operator for the most up to date flight information.

The Irish Coast Guard and the RNLI have also issued a joint warning to the public as Storm Lorenzo approaches to remind people to pay particular attention to their personal safety while outdoors and along the coastline during this time.

Waves crash on a wall along the coast near Angra do Heroismo, before the arrival of Hurricane Lorenzo in Azores, Portugal. Picture: REUTERS/Rafael Marchante
Waves crash on a wall along the coast near Angra do Heroismo, before the arrival of Hurricane Lorenzo in Azores, Portugal. Picture: REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

The organisations have issued advice to mariners to monitor all sea area forecasts broadcast by Met Eireann, be prepared and to take heed of the advice and sea conditions. Leisure craft users are also being advised to avoid any unnecessary sea activity.

In addition, walkers are advised to avoid any exposed areas, including seafront walkways, as they may be hit by sudden gusts exposing themselves to unnecessary danger.

ESB Networks warned that power cuts in parts of the country are a near-certainty as the violent gales sweep up the country.

"Be vigilant. It’s clear that trees will fall given the level of ground saturation. It’s clear that electricity lines will come down either as a result of the winds or as a result of trees taking down electricity lines.

"And we would ask people to be really careful when they see a tree down and to be aware that there may be live electricity wires tangled up in that tree," said Derek Hynes of ESB Ireland.

Farmers, people fishing and those in rural areas have been urged to be extra cautious as the storm approaches.

A map shows where the effects of Hurricane Lorenzo will reach. Photo: Alistair Grant Freelance / National Hurricane Center
A map shows where the effects of Hurricane Lorenzo will reach. Photo: Alistair Grant Freelance / National Hurricane Center

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has advised this afternoon: "I urge farmers, fishermen and all people in rural areas to ensure that they are ready for the approaching storm and ask them to follow closely the advice of the authorities particularly for those in the worst affected counties.

"Priority is obviously the safety of people and I would reiterate the advice that care should be taken. For farmers, they should ensure that their yards are safe by securing loose objects.

"Wait until the storm abates to check on livestock, wear a high vis jacket, bring a mobile phone and make sure someone knows where you are going."

The Department of Social Protection has said they will be on hand to help those affected by Storm Lorenzo.

"The Department’s Community Welfare Services staff will engage with the relevant local authorities and will quickly assess the level of service required in affected areas.

"This interagency response ensures that supports will be provided to those affected as swiftly as possible. The Humanitarian Assistance scheme will be activated as necessary.

"This Scheme provides assistance to people whose homes are damaged by flooding or severe weather events, who are not in a position to meet costs for essential needs, household items and in some instances structural repair.

"The scheme is means tested and assistance is not provided for losses which are covered by insurance or for commercial and business losses," a spokesperson said in a statement.

Paddy Mahon, local government representative with the NECG said that authorities across the country have been preparing response plans since the start of the week.

"Since Monday when it became a possibility, councils would have been examining the weather profile, examining the potential for this to move from possible to probable," Mr Mahon told RTÉ Morning Ireland.

"Each local authority will have a severe weather assessment team so those, particularly across the western seaboard, would have been convening since Monday and in other parts of the country as well. I'm convinced that all local authorities will be convening their teams today, just to assess how this might impact on their particular region."

Mr Mahon said that fallen trees are a concern for many local authorities, which may "exacerbate flooding potential".

"We're at the time of the year where the trees are still in leaf, and a tree down as a result of a storm or hurricane, at this time of the year can have a lot more of an impact on flooding than it might do during the winter when we traditionally experience storms," he said.

"This is a very fast moving weather event, it's moving at an incredible pace towards Ireland. Between ourselves, local authorities and land owners, we all have an obligation to manage and mind the trees and deal with dangerous trees.

"That's not to say every tree will be safe against the storm that's coming. It's inevitable that trees will fall, they'll have an impact on power lines, possibly block roads, and they could contribute to drainage issues and cause unintended flooding as a result of that."

Meanwhile, the public have been urged to stay away from exposed coastal areas as the storm hits amid warnings that massive storm surges, freak waves and high winds could claim lives.

Irish Water Safety and the Coast Guard urged people to avoid exposed coastal areas as well as piers, jettys and promenades at the height of the storm as the failure to do so could risk their lives or the lives of the emergency services.

Greatest concern is focused on so-called 'storm hunters' who risk their lives to take dramatic photographs by the coast.

Gardaí warned that such behaviour at the height of storms in 2017 and 2018 put the lives of emergency personnel at risk.

The warning came as Ireland's fishing fleet began to flee to the safety of ports as Lorenzo approached.

Cork Airport warned travellers to check flight updates with their airline today and tomorrow.

"Winds may gust 35-45knots which could lead to flight disruptions," a spokesperson said.

Greatest risk of damage is posed to infrastructure and utility networks.

The ESB and Irish Water will have repair crews on standby - but crews cannot begin any repair works until the weather eases and it is deemed safe to do so.

Councils have convened emergency planning teams to prepare for possible storm-related damage.

The six councils in the Status Orange area all have special teams organised to help with the removal of fallen trees and debris from roads.

Householders have been stocking up on batteries, flash-lights and candles in areas where disruption to electricity supplies is a risk.

Western and northern counties are expected to be worst affected as Lorenzo pushes waves characterised as "high" or "phenomenal" across the Atlantic.

By the time they reach our shores, Mr Murphy warned they would produce "very significant wave surges".

"They could be quite ferocious, very dangerous," he said.

The storm threat prompted a stark warning from Inner City Helping Homeless chief executive Anthony Flynn, who demanded the triggering of emergency weather protocols in cities.

"On average 170 people per night are sleeping rough because they simply cannot access a bed. Extended 24-hour services should be put into operation until this storm passes," he said.

The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive said it had contingency plans for the storm and would put in place temporary shelter arrangements.

"We are confident there will be sufficient additional emergency spaces to cater for those who require it," it said.

Lorenzo has moved farther north and east across the Atlantic than any other category-five hurricane, producing wind speeds of 260kmh, but it is expected to weaken to a tropical storm when it is within 1,000km of the coast.

Last night, the storm lashed the mid-Atlantic Azores Islands with heavy rain, powerful winds and high waves, though initial reports said it caused only minor damage.

The Azores Civil Protection Agency said the category two hurricane felled trees and power lines as it passed just west of the Portuguese island chain.

Hurricanes the size of Lorenzo are rare so far north and east in the Atlantic basin.

Azores Civil Protection Agency chief Carlos Neves says two homes were safely evacuated and no injuries were reported.

Around 250,000 people live on the nine volcanic islands.

The Portuguese weather agency reported gusts of up to 90mph, lower than forecast as Lorenzo lost power over cooler water.

Authorities in the archipelago placed seven islands on red alert as Lorenzo approached.

School classes were cancelled and government offices were closed as people were told to remain indoors Wednesday.

Azores airline Sata cancelled all flights to the archipelago, and some islands closed their ports.

Irish Independent

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