Hurricane Ophelia has intensified to Category 2 strength as it heads toward Europe

Hurricane Ophelia is the latest weather system to whip up winds and rain in the Atlantic. But the storm is heading east toward the northwest coast of Spain and then up to Ireland instead of crossing the Atlantic toward the hurricane-ravaged Caribbean.

Ophelia officially gained hurricane status on Wednesday evening, according to the National Hurricane Center.

As of Thursday afternoon, Ophelia was meandering and expected to move slowly east and northeast. The storm has picked up strength and become a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 100 mph and higher gusts.

Some of Ophelia’s rain bands are likely to hit the Azores islands over the weekend. Ophelia’s projected path then takes it in the direction of Spain and Portugal on the Iberian Peninsula, but current forecasts suggest the storm will gradually turn to the north and remain well offshore.

Only two known storms have hit the Iberian Peninsula — one in 1842, and one in 2005. The most recent was a tropical depression that was previously Hurricane Vince.

After Ophelia moves past Spain, forecasters say it could hit the Irish coast on Monday as an post-tropical storm, but still with hurricane-force winds.

Hurricane ophelia windsNational Hurricane CenterHere’s when Ophelia’s tropical storm-force winds are most likely to arrive.

The Irish coast and parts of the UK could experience punishing winds and dangerous waves.

This is the 10th consecutive storm to reach hurricane strength in the Atlantic this season, tying the record also met in 1878, 1886 and 1893.

There are a couple of caveats to that record, however, as Brian Donegan, a Weather Channel meteorologist, recently wrote: A streak-disrupting tropical storm could easily have been missed in those 19th-century years, and this season’s Hurricane Lee might be reevaluated to count as two storms.

There have been 15 named storms so far this hurricane season, including Ophelia. That stat — combined with the number of major hurricanes we’ve seen and the overall cyclone energy generated by the storms — make this an extremely active Atlantic hurricane season by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s standards. Hurricane season continues until November 30.

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