LONDON (AP) — France, England and countries across western Europe braced for what could be some of the highest wind speeds the region has witnessed in decades as Storm Ciarán arrived on the English coast Wednesday evening.
Heavy rain associated with the storm was pushing ashore at the southwest tip of England. The Met Office, the U.K.’s national weather forecaster, warned people to take care.
Residents in northwestern France were also preparing for high winds that national forecaster Météo-France warned could reach around 90 miles per hour (145 kilometers per hour) across Brittany, Normandy and Pays de la Loire. Winds of up to 105 miles per hour (170 kilometers per hour) and waves of almost 33 feet (10 meters) are expected in the country’s northwestern tip.
The national train authority, the SNCF, 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 France’s 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 Met Office issued severe weather warnings for winds of about 80 miles per hour (130 kilometers per hour) or more in coastal areas on Wednesday night and through Thursday. The Channel Islands and the east of England are set to 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.
In its social media post announcing the arrival of the storm, the Met Office wrote, “Although there is still some uncertainty in the exact track, the strongest winds will be to the south,” adding that “the greatest impacts (are) likely along the south coast.”
“Blowing debris is possible, you could see damage to trees, maybe tiles off roofs and damage to buildings,” said Rachel Ayers, a senior meteorologist at the Met Office, in an interview earlier.
The last comparable high winds to hit the U.K. were during Storm Eunice in February 2022, but Ayers said this storm could cause more damage.
“Trees are in leaf at the moment, so they are more top heavy,” she said. “That does increase the risk of them falling over and also with the leaves around that makes (for) increased drainage issues.”
Channel Islands residents have been asked not to stockpile goods after supermarket shelves were emptied there ahead of the storm. Sandbags were being handed out in several areas of England and Northern Ireland.
The English Environment Agency urged people to prepare for “possible significant inland flooding” on Wednesday, but the worst coastal impacts weren’t expected until Thursday. Wind was the biggest threat, the agency said.
Flood barriers were being set up in the southwest and the River Severn, which empties into the estuary separating England and Wales.
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.
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-few-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 blustery 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, Henson said. 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.
If it does, it could 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.
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 wind 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 Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of global warming.
Rising sea levels due to global warming also lead to more damaging storm surges, she said.
This story has corrected Bob Henson’s quote to say that Storm Ciarán may be a once-in-every-few-years storm, not once in every two years.
Associated Press writer Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.
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