seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The 1947 Blizzard

blizzard-of-1947The worst blizzard in living memory hits Ireland on February 25, 1947. The penetrating Arctic winds had been blowing for several weeks. Munster and Leinster had been battling the snows since the middle of January.

On the evening of February 24, a major Arctic depression approaches the coast of Cork and Kerry and advances northeast across Ireland. By morning, Ireland is being pounded by the most powerful blizzard of the 20th century. The winter of 1946-1947 is the coldest and harshest winter in living memory. Temperatures rarely rise above freezing and the snows that have fallen across Ireland in January remain until the middle of March.

Worse still, all subsequent snowfall in February and March simply piles on top of all that has previously fallen. There is no shortage of snow that bitter winter. Of the fifty days between January 24 and March 17, it snows on thirty of them.

“The Blizzard” of February 25th is the greatest single snowfall on record and lasts for almost fifty consecutive hours. It smothers the entire island in a blanket of snow. Driven by persistent easterly gales, the snow drifts until every hollow, depression, arch and alleyway is filled and the Irish countryside becomes a vast ashen wasteland.

Everything on the frozen landscape is a sea of white. The freezing temperatures solidify the surface and it is to be an astonishing three weeks before the snows begins to melt.

(Pictured: Snow drifts on Main Street, Boyle, County Roscommon, February 1947)

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Hurricane Debbie Strikes Ireland

hurricane-debbieHurricane Debbie, the most powerful cyclone on record to strike Ireland in September and possibly the only tropical cyclone on record to ever strike the British Isles while still tropical, makes landfall in Ireland on September 16, 1961.

The fourth named storm of the 1961 Atlantic hurricane season, Debbie originates from a well-defined tropical disturbance that is first identified in late August over Central Africa. Tracking generally westward, the system moves off the coast of Senegal on September 5 into the Atlantic Ocean. By this time, it is estimated to have become a tropical storm, but forecasters do not issue advisories on the system until two days later. Late on September 6, Debbie passes through the southern Cape Verde Islands as a strong tropical storm or minimal hurricane, resulting in a plane crash that kills 60 people in the islands. Once clear of the islands, data on the storm becomes sparse and the status of Debbie is uncertain over the following several days as it tracks west-northwestward and later northward. It is not until a commercial airliner intercepts the storm on September 10 that its location becomes certain. The following day, Debbie intensifies and reaches its peak intensity as a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane scale, with maximum winds of 120 mph.

Maintaining its peak intensity for over a day, the hurricane gradually slows its forward motion and weakens. By September 13, Debbie’s motion becomes influenced by the Westerlies, causing the system to accelerate east-northeastward. The system passes over the western Azores as a minimal hurricane on September 15. At this point, there is uncertainty as to the structure of Debbie, whether it transitions into an extratropical cyclone or maintains its identity as a tropical system. Regardless of which takes place, the system deepens as it nears the British Isles, skirting the coast of Western Ireland on September 16. Shortly thereafter, the system is confirmed to have become extratropical as it continues towards the northeast.

Striking Ireland as a powerful storm, Debbie brings record winds to much of the island, with a peak gust of 114 mph measured just offshore. These winds cause widespread damage and disruption, downing tens of thousands of trees and power lines. Countless structures sustain varying degrees of damage, with many smaller buildings destroyed. Agriculture experiences extensive losses to barley, corn, and wheat crops. Throughout Ireland, Debbie kills 18 people, twelve in the Republic of Ireland and six in Northern Ireland. It causes $40–50 million in damage in the Republic and at least $4 million in Northern Ireland. The storm also batters parts of Great Britain with winds in excess of 100 mph.

The remnants of the storm later turned eastward, striking Norway and Russia, before dissipating on September 19.