Ophelia beats Hercules, Sets Irish Records

Ben Freeston

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Updated 428d ago

The giant storms of early 2014 roared in from the deep Atlantic with cold-hearted power and record breaking size. By contrast, Hurricane Ophelia staged a sneak attack from the south, birthed of tropical waters. What she lacked in raw size (and there's still plenty) she made up for with this unusual approach, setting records in places like Tramore in Ireland or Borth in Wales.

Calculating just how unusual a swell is speaks to our inner forecast geek. Once-in-a-decade has a nice ring to it and the '50-year storm' is a well worn, but worthwhile, surf cliche. Digging out the data to validate these occurrences is more work than you might think.

For sure, if there's a wave buoy at our location of interest we have a head start, but these are often relatively recently deployed or with a patchy record historically. Our gold standard is a 35-year hindcast, we build a state-of-the-art ocean model and then we run it as though forecasting the past, using accurate satellite verified winds as the input to our calculations.

The result is a 'forecast for the past' or 'hindcast'. It's not quite as perfect a record as a well placed wave buoy, but it gives us an accurate picture of every swell that's occurred, since satellites were first observing the weather, hourly and for every spot on earth. Digging into this gold mine for the Ophelia swell is pretty interesting.

For spots on the West of Ireland, this storm doesn't move the needle. The raw power of 2014 comfortably wins as recent records go. But for more sheltered spots to the south and east, it's a different picture:

Tramore Giant Swells

1st Feb 1988 28ft @ 13 seconds
16th Dec 1989 28ft @ 19 seconds
28th Oct 1996 26ft @ 13 seconds
5th Feb 2014 26ft @ 15 seconds
8th Feb 2014 26ft @ 13 seconds
12th Feb 2014 27ft @ 15 seconds
Hurricane Ophelia   33ft @ 15 seconds


This is hardly a surf story in most senses, however somewhere, tucked away on the East Coast of Ireland, or hiding up St George's Channel, or further afield in Iceland, is a spot that's been sleeping waiting for this.

If you found it, and that might have been no easy task given the winds and the incredibly short duration of this swell, you might have surfed something no-one else ever has. It might not have been perfect, it might not even been that good, but in an age where we're told the exploration is done and everything has been found, that should still mean something...