Hurricane Lorenzo: The story of another ‘strongest-ever recorded’

On Saturday, the much diminished remains of what was once Hurricane Lorenzo hit southern Germany.

On the Zugspitze Mountain, Germany’s highest peak, winds reached 108 kilometres (67 miles) per hour in a blizzard. But on lower ground, in areas where most people live, it was merely a wet and windy day.

Five days earlier, Lorenzo was a Category 5 hurricane – the strongest ever recorded in the central North Atlantic – with winds blowing at 259km/h (161 miles/h). It generated waves of 15 metres (49 feet) but with occasional rogue waves of 30 metres (98 feet). The swell spread to both sides of the ocean to the joy of surfers.

The first land to be affected by Hurricane Lorenzo was Portugal’s western Azores. Waters around these islands are not warm enough – at under 22 degrees Celsius (71.6 Fahrenheit) – to sustain a hurricane, so Lorenzo was already declining. However, it was still at Category 1 on the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength when its eye passed about 80km (50 miles) to the northwest of the westernmost Azores.

The islands of Corvo and Flores came within the band of hurricane-force winds and 0.5 metres (1.6 feet) storm surge on Wednesday. Trees and electricity lines were brought down, while damaging waves were measured at 17 metres (56 feet). There is no history of such violent conditions over these islands in 125 years of records.

On the island of Flores, the commercial harbour of Lajes das Flores suffered badly, footage broadcast by the RTP TV station showed. Everything not bolted down to the concrete quay was swept away, while containers littered the shoreline.

The Azores islands are not strangers to hurricanes; indeed, there have been at least 14 recorded since 1893. But only one has made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane, in 1926, over the top of the capital on Sao Miguel Island, the largest of the Azores archipelago.

The cyclone fairly raced away to the northeast across ever cooler water, towards Ireland. Extra-tropical cyclone Lorenzo hit County Donegal and Northern Ireland late on Thursday. On the way, Lorenzo blew at 108km/h (67 miles/h) over Mace Head, County Galway. Rain fell for at least 18 hours over Northern Ireland.

A steadily weakening storm prompted the UK Met Office to issue flood warnings. The still notable storm crossed the Low Countries and Germany and was still recognisable as a low-pressure area late on Sunday over Ukraine.

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