Hurricane Ophelia strengthened as it marched toward Ireland, where it’s forecast to bring strong winds and heavy rains this week.
The Category 3 hurricane had sustained winds of 185 kilometers per hour (115 mph) as it passed east of the Azores early Sunday.
Ophelia will have big impacts for the British Isles beginning Monday, including hurricane-force winds forecast for Ireland.
The fast-moving storm intensified Saturday but is expected to gradually weaken overnight and become a post-tropical cyclone within 24 hours, according to the National Hurricane Center.
It warns the powerful storm will still bring hurricane-force winds as it moves near Ireland and the United Kingdom.
“Direct impacts from wind and heavy rain in portions of these areas are likely, along with dangerous marine conditions,” the center said late Saturday. “Although the center of Ophelia is not forecast to reach Ireland or the UK until Monday, wind and rains will arrive well in advance of the cyclone center.”
Tropical-storm-force winds are possible throughout the Azores on Saturday night behind a cold front following the hurricane, the NHC said.
“The odd part about Ophelia is seeing this intensification take place in what’s normally a much cooler region of the Atlantic Ocean,” CNN Meteorologist Allison Chinchar said.
“Wind is going to be the biggest factor,” Chinchar said of the forecast for Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, where wind gusts could reach 130 kph (80 mph). The coasts of Portugal and Spain will see wind gusts of up to 90 kph (56 mph).
Chinchar said because the storm is racing along at more than 44 kph (28 mph), it won’t have much of a chance to deluge Ireland.
Met Éireann, Ireland’s National Meteorological Service, issued a red wind warning covering the counties of Clare, Cork, Galway, Kerry and Mayo.
It said the storm could bring fierce winds “potentially causing structural damage and disruption, with dangerous marine conditions due to high seas and potential flooding.”
The council of County Kerry said that sandbags had been distributed to low-lying areas.
“Tidal surges are expected in coastal areas with some flooding likely in coastal regions though the severe risk is expected from high winds and the possibility of fallen branches and trees,” it said in a statement.
Irish transport provider Bus Eireann said it had canceled school bus services in areas covered by the red warnings Monday.
The Met Office in the UK said there were yellow wind warnings for Northern Ireland and parts of Great Britain for Monday and Tuesday.
But it said some areas would have high temperatures over the weekend “in part, due to the influence of (the storm), which will draw up very warm air from Spain on its eastern flank.”
“Although parts of the UK may experience severe conditions, it’s important to realize that not all areas will be affected by this ex-hurricane. For example, much of eastern England will be unusually warm for the time of year but quite breezy on Monday and Tuesday.”
The Great Storm of 1987
Some British media pointed out that the storm was due to arrive 30 years to the day after the “Great Storm of 1987.”
That storm made landfall in Cornwall, southwest England with winds of 120 mph (190 kph), making it the equivalent of a Category 3 Hurricane.
It was not technically a hurricane as it had formed in the Bay of Biscay rather than the tropics.
As it moves northeast, the remnants of Ophelia are expected to weaken and forecasters said it will dissipate by Wednesday.
Ophelia is the farthest east that a major hurricane has ever been in the Atlantic. The previous record was held by Frances in 1980, according to CNN Meteorologist Haley Brink.
CNN Meteorologist Derek Van Dam said warm ocean waters in the Atlantic had allowed Ophelia to form.
“Now that Ophelia is moving over colder waters in the northern latitudes of the Atlantic, it is losing its tropical characteristics,” he said.
The storm is the sixth major hurricane of the 2017 Atlantic basin hurricane season and the 10th consecutive named storm in the Atlantic to become a hurricane. The latter milestone ties a record that has occurred three times, most recently in 1893, more than a century ago.