Storm Lorenzo only the tip of the melting iceberg

Ryan Carrick

On Thursday October 3rd, Twitter was rampant with tweets from workers and students pleading with Storm Lorenzo to give them the day off college, work and school.

One tweet read: “Ireland: the only country who wished that the fast approaching hurricane would get even worse… just so we can get the day off work.” This is typical of an amusing yet concerning attitude many people have towards these weather events that are becoming more frequent in Ireland and around the world.

Lorenzo reached a category five, the strongest ever hurricane to hit the North Atlantic with winds of 259 km/h at its peak. The first land mass affected by the storm was Portugal’s western Azores before it moved north-easterly towards Ireland and began to decline.

Nonetheless, a yellow warning was issued by Met Eireann for Dublin and most of the midlands while Limerick, Galway, Kerry, Mayo and Clare were issued with an orange warning. The storm bashed Ireland’s west coast, which saw torrential rain, heavy seas and fierce winds of up to 130 km/h. The storm left an estimated 4000 homes without power.

Lorenzo had dissipated by the time it had moved past Munster and the west of Ulster and left a relatively underwhelming mark on the east, with gusts that were weaker than originally forecast.

Unfortunately for those hopeful Lorenzo fans, institutions, including DCU, remained open for business. Comments soon surfaced online that the storm was “over-hyped”. However, University College Cork climatologist Dr Kieran Hickey, said that it is better to be over prepared and wrong than under prepared and wrong.

“It’s puerile to be coming out with that kind of thing. It’s in the category of internet trolling,” he said. “Because Ireland is in a dynamic weather environment, we should never be surprised as to what this could throw at us.”

Underneath this typical reaction to a freak weather event from the general Irish public, lies a greater problem. Climate change is the biggest challenge that humanity is facing. Globally, we are already seeing rising sea levels, rising temperatures on both land and in sea, damage to coral reefs around the world, and of course, increasingly intensive storms. We are likely to see more of these storms impact Ireland  as climate change progresses.

July 2019 was the hottest recorded July globally, slightly hotter than July 2016 which was the previous record holder. According to the National Snow & Ice Data Centre, melt runoff of the ice in Greenland was 40 billion times more than the average between 1981 and 2010 during this month. A cloud of smoke bigger than the European Union billowed from fires in Siberia and the Arctic Circle, a normally frozen area crucial to the earth’s cooling system, throughout the summer of 2019.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a UN report on biodiversity, said that 1 million species of plant and animal are at risk of becoming extinct as a result of climate change. These are all  indicators that the planet will continue to experience irreparable damage unless steps are made to reverse the effects of climate change.

In Ireland, the average temperature has risen by 0.7 degrees Celsius between 1890 and 2013. According to the recent study ‘Ireland’s Climate: The Road Ahead’, a further increase of 1.5 degrees above the mean temperature between 1981 and 2010 is expected by the middle of this century. Six of the ten warmest years in Ireland have occurred since 1990, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Although Ireland has yet to experience a hurricane, it is very possible that this will not be the case for long. Speaking to the Irish Times, Professor Peter Thorne of Maynooth University, who is an expert in storms patterns, said that the continuing warming of ocean surfaces, caused by global warming, means oceans are more likely to reach the 26.2 degrees required “to build and maintain tropical cyclones” much like Storm Lorenzo.

Students are also alarmed by the increasing frequency of unusual weather events like Storm Lorenzo. Actuarial Mathematics student in DCU, Owen Rogers, said he has certainly noticed a change in weather patterns.

“I think of the summer this year and last year,” he said.

“There were record temperatures in Ireland for a longer period. I think of the snow last year, Storm Ophelia and now Storm Lorenzo. I can remember several yellow warnings in Dublin in the last three or four years where I can’t really remember any growing up.”

DCU Communications student Thomas Hynes says he believes that the recent changes in weather patterns have had a somewhat positive effect on the Irish climate.

“It’s not an ideal situation to have more frequent storms and extreme weather … [because of] the damage it can cause and the expense it creates,” he said. “At the same time, while we may be getting more severe weather during the winter months, there’s been a notable improvement in the weather during recent summer periods with last year’s month-long heatwave being a prime example.”

As a member of the EU, Ireland has binding agreements to reduce carbon emissions. The country is expected to reduce emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 and 30 per cent by 2030. A recent report from the EPA predicts that Ireland will miss its targets by a significant margin.

Last year, Ireland was the lowest rated EU country on the Climate Change Performance Index. Although Ireland became the second country to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency in May, there are no real requirements for the government to take action, indicating further steps are needed.

“People need to reduce their footprint,” Owen said. “Consider taking the bike or public transport. Taxes need to be increased on fossil fuels. The meat industry is a big contributor. People need to cut down on meat consumption. Little steps can make a big difference.”

A week of protests from the Extinction Rebellion began on 8 October in Dublin and other capital cities with the aim of raising awareness of the demands on governments to tackle this climate emergency after traditional methods, such as writing letters, were unsuccessful. Whether this action will conjure a meaningful response from the respective governments is a different question.

Ryan Carrick

Image Credit: Gerst