Our work as a whale-watching company is partially weather dependent. Of course we dont stay put if it’s just drizzling and our spotter locates a nice group of animals but we definitely don´t take any unnecessary risks. There were two time periods this year where we weren´t able to go out at all. Madeira was affected by two powerful storms this year where whale-watching on the high seas was replaced with wave-watching from safe spots along the coastline.
Hurricane Leslie (October 2018)
As the twelfth named storm of the 2018 hurricane season, Leslies dynamic and erratic development puzzled meteorologists. She lasted a total of 25 days, emerging as a large subtropical storm in the North Atlantic on the 22nd September and finally dissipating on the 16th October near the Franco-Spanish border. As she meandered across the Atlantic ocean, Leslie experienced a series of intensified periods, where she reached hurricane force and periods where she was weakened back to a subtropical storm. This made her path difficult to predict and prompted emergency services in many coastal areas to prepare for the worst, including Madeira. As she approached Madeira storm warnings were issued for the first time in the history of the island, announcing that she would hit as a strong tropical storm. Yet again Leslie surprised everyone; she reached peak intensity on the 12th October with winds of 130km/h and then changed direction, just missing Madeira and gradually weakening as she moved towards the Portuguese mainland. On Saturday 13th October, the powerful force of the fringes of the storm hit Madeira, with high waves of up to 8m hitting some parts of the coastline accompanied by strong winds and heavy rainfall. Almost all flights were cancelled, some roads were closed because of the high swell and several events had to be postponed. Overall, the damage was minimal on the archipelago but the same could not be said for some parts of mainland Europe. Leslie hit mainland Portugal as an extratropical cyclone causing flash floods, fallen trees and, sadly, also a few fatalities. Ironically the rain, wind and swell of hurricane Leslie were felt in Madeira at the same time almost to the day as those caused by hurricane Ophelia last year. Ophelias collateral effects were felt on the island on the 11th October 2017.
Winter storm Emma (February 2018)
The effect of Leslies wind and waves were but a grim reminder of Emma, the powerful winter storm that formed on the 26th of February and dissipated on the 6th March. The storm affected many areas of the UK and caused heavy snowfall and freezing cold temperatures across several parts of mainland Europe. While the mainland braved this abominable snow-storm, Emma brought heavy rainfaill periods, 8-12m high waves and very strong winds to Madeira on the 28th February. The high tide allowed the waves to severely damage some parts of the archipelagos coastline. In the South-West of Madeira, the waves demolished several houses, dragged away boats and even destroyed a part of the Calheta marina wall. Emma caused a total of 16 fatalities in the UK and Scotland and, sadly, also claimed the life of a tourist in Madeira, whose body wasn’t recovered despite intensive rescue efforts.
I mentioned this in a blog last year as hurricane Ophelia ripped through the Atlantic ocean; climate change is not a hoax. Formidable storms are just one type of the many extreme weather phenomena we can unfortunately expect in future. If you happen to be on the island during stormy periods, please stay safe. We don’t take any unnecessary risks and neither should you. Of course, when the storms pass and conditions improve, the Atlantic invites us back out to enjoy her treasures and it’s business as usual.
By Paula Thake