RayTech Sail Racer


35-40 foot offshore waves, wind gusts to 120mph and tornados in Britain are signs of some very intense storms across the Western Europe this September through November.
The first notable storm was hundreds of miles west of Ireland during the end of September when it created 35-40 foot waves across the region. A P&O cruise liner was struck by a wave estimated at 36 feet in FORCE 10 conditions, on the Beaufort Scale, when they were about 600 miles west of Cork, Ireland. Lower deck windows were broken when the 69,000 ton ship was hit by the wave. At the same time, a trawler was rolled by a wave about 80 miles west of Cork. This storm also created waves 15 feet and higher along the southern Bay of Biscay coast.

NOAA photo



Description Sea State Speed
0 Calm Sea like a mirror less than 1 less than 1 less than 1
1 Very Light Ripples with appearance of
scales, no foam crests
1 – 3 1 – 5 1 – 3
2 Light breeze Wavelets, small but pronounced.
Crests with glassy appearance,
but do not break.
4 – 6 6 – 11 4 – 7
3 Gentle breeze Large wavelets, crests begin to
break. Glassy looking foam,
occasional white horses.
7 – 10 12 – 19 8 – 12
4 Moderate breeze Small waves becoming longer,
frequent white horses.
11 – 16 20 – 29 13 – 18
5 Fresh breeze Moderate waves of pronounced
long form. Many white horses,
some spray.
17 – 21 30 – 39 19 – 24
6 Strong breeze Some large waves, extensive
white foam crests, some spray.
22 – 27 40 – 50 25 – 31
7 Near gale Sea heaped up, white foam from
breaking waves blowing in
streaks with the wind.
28 – 33 51 – 61 32 – 38
8 Gale Moderately high and long waves.
Crests break into spin drift,
blowing foam in well marked streaks.
34 – 40 62 – 74 39 – 46
9 Strong gale High waves, dense foam streaks in
wind, wave crests topple, tumble and
roll over. Spray reduces visibility.
41 – 47 75 – 87 47 – 54
10 Storm Very high waves with long overhanging
crests. Dense blowing foam, sea surface
appears white. Heavy tumbling of sea,
shock-like, poor visibility.
48 – 55 88 – 101 55 – 63
11 Violent storm Exceptionally high waves, sometimes
concealing small and medium sized ships.
Sea completely covered with long white
patches of foam. Edges of wave crests
blown in froth. Poor visibility.
56 – 63 102 – 117 64 – 73
12 Hurricane Air filled with foam and spray, sea white
with driving spray, Visibility very seriously
> 64 >119 > 74



A few weeks later on October 12, another intense storm hit southern England causing flash floods in Kent and Sussex counties.

The next storm, a 978 MB low, slammed into southern England on October 29th with intense rains and wind gusts to 120 mph. This storm was responsible for the sinking of an Italian cargo ship off the coast of France. The force of this storm also spawned two tornados SW of London.

November has not been spared from these monstrous storms. On November 5th, a 964MB low pressure area, situated to the west of the southern British Isles, caused a delay in the start of the Vendee Globe race for 4 days. Winds of up to 60 mph and heavy rains battered the British Isles, France and Spain. Continued flooding in southern England caused at least one river to reach it highest level ever since records have been kept beginning in 1625.



Since the early November storm, two strong cold fronts have passed across the British Isles, one on the 11th and the other on the 15th. Winds and sea heights measured at the buoys SW of Land’s End, England give us a picture of the intensity of the winds and seas during this period. On November 11, after about 20 hours of NW winds of 20-25kts., the seas in this region rose to an average height of 18-20 feet. Once the NW winds subsided and winds ahead of the next front turned into the SW, the seas relaxed to a low of 9-12 feet on November 15. But again on November 16th, after another 20 hours of 20-25 kts. NW winds, the seas increased to 15-18 ft.

NOAA photo

What is the cause of these unusually intense storms across western Europe this fall? These storms are formed along the boundary between the warm air from the tropics and the cold air from the Arctic. This year the cold air is moving further south across Europe. The normal storm track, where the warm and cold air meet, is north of Scotland. This year the storms are reaching as far south as France.

The intensity of these storms is enhanced during the fall by the subtropical jet stream. Remnants of energy from the tropical lows in the western and central Atlantic are pushed NE toward Europe by the jet stream. This energy combines with low pressure areas that have formed along the storm track causing rapid intensification and extreme weather and sea conditions.

Will this pattern continue? Since the November 5th storm, the fierceness of the storms has abated. The short range pattern does appear similar with storms moving across the southern British Isles and France. These storms, however, should not be quite as strong as the fall storms because of the lack of energy input from the tropics.

The weather pattern across western Europe is undoubtedly tied to the pattern across the US. When the storm track dips down into the eastern US, it also dips down across Western Europe. This year the storm track is further south across the eastern 1/3 of the US than it has been in the past few years at this time. This pattern is forecast to remain in place for most of the winter. We also expect that the storm track will remain further south across Western Europe for the next few months.


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