Approaching Storm Ciarán may bring highest winds in France and England for decades, forecasters warn


LONDON (AP) — France, England and countries across western Europe are bracing for what meteorologists warn could be some of the highest wind speeds the region has witnessed in decades as Storm Ciarán hurtles toward coastlines and is set to make landfall on Wednesday evening.

Residents were battening down the hatches in northwestern France as the national forecaster Météo-France warned of exceptional winds of around 90 miles per hour (145 kilometers per hour) blowing across Brittany, Normandy and Pays de la Loire. Winds of up to 105 miles per hour (170 kilometers per hour) and waves almost 33 feet (10 meters) high are expected in the country’s northwestern tip.

The national train authority, the SNCF, has canceled some regional trains in five eastern regions starting late Wednesday night. Fast trains from Paris were eliminating intermediary stops on route to Rennes and several other destinations.

“It’s during the calmest moments that we must prepare,” Eric Brocardi, spokesman for the National Federation of Firefighters said on BFM-TV. He advised residents to stay home, tightly close shutters and equip themselves with emergency kits packed with necessary medication and flashlights in case of electricity failures.

The Brittany and Normandy regions on the English Channel are expected to be hardest hit, along with the Loire-Atlantique region to the south.

The U.K.’s weather forecaster, the Met Office, has issued severe weather warnings for winds of about 80 miles per hour (130 kilometers per hour) or more in coastal areas that are expected to cause flying debris, damage to buildings and a risk to life on Wednesday night and through Thursday. The Channel Islands and the east of England are set bear the brunt of the wind and rain, although much of the south and southeast will also be pummeled with heavier-than-normal wind and rain.

Channel Islands residents have been asked not to stockpile goods after supermarket shelves were emptied there ahead of the storm. Sandbags are being handed out in several areas of England and Northern Ireland.

The unusually low pressure is expected to bring heavy rain to much broader swathes of Britain, with 80 millimeters (3.1 inches) expected to fall in parts of Wales and the southwest on already saturated ground because of Storm Babet two weeks ago, bringing a risk of floods.

Heavy rain is expected to be the biggest threat to Wales, and a campsite in the country’s southwest that was already flooded will soon be at dangerous levels, the Met Office said. The national forecaster in Ireland, Met Éireann, also predicted heavy rain, strong winds and flooding in southern counties.

“It looks like a once-in-every-two-years storm for the UK and France,” said Bob Henson, a meteorologist and science writer with Yale Climate Connections, but could turn into “a once in a generation storm,” he said.

The blusterous weather is the result of a branch of the jet stream — a consistent band of strong wind high above the Earth’s surface heading west to east —heading towards northern Europe, he explained. The band is arcing southward from its origin point high above eastern Canada, intensifying a low pressure area and causing the storm, he said.

The storm is caused by an interaction between what’s going on near the surface and a few miles above ground.

“You’ve got the ingredients near the surface – warm moist air, cold air to the north – and the jet stream takes those ingredients and creates a winter storm out of them,” he said in an interview.

It was also possible that the storm might see a “sting jet,” he said, when part of the jet stream descends to the Earth’s surface very quickly, gaining momentum as it goes. This “punches” a small area of the surface with very high winds, he said, causing serious damage.

“We see that happen in some of the very worst storms,” Henson said. “There’s hints that that could happen.”

If it does, it could potentially be amongst the handful of strongest storms in the region for the last 200 years, he said. “Be prepared for things to be flying around,” he said.

Dr Friederike Otto, of Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, studies the extent to which extreme weather events are caused by global warming.

She said there had been few studies on whether winds speeds were increasing because of climate change, and understanding is hampered by the fact that there were few observations of wind speeds taken far back in the past.

But the rainfall associated with such storms has increased due to human-induced climate change, she said, and that would mean damage is more severe. That’s because a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture which must fall as rain. On that, the science was “quite clear,” she said, with a 7% increase in rainfall for each degree of global warming.

Rising sea levels due to global warming also lead to more damaging storm surges, she said.


Associated Press writer Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.


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