Hurricane Ophelia Causes Red Sky Phenomenon

Editor James Sproston gives us the scientific lowdown on our apocalyptic weather.

James Sproston
23rd October 2017
Apocalypse now?

Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight right? That’s what my mum always used to tell me anyway. However, this red sky in the morning was no ordinary warning for Britain’s notoriously well-warned shepherds, instead they faced something that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the dusty setting of the new Blade Runner.

Rather than being a sign of an incoming storm, or indeed what some thought was a nuclear storm, what our Geordie shepherds woke up to was a storm that had already hit us, Ex-hurricane Ophelia. Though the true impact of the storm would hit Newcastle during that night, with 50mph winds flying about, it was the red sky that posed most questions.

Surprisingly enough, the odd orange tint was caused by Saharan dust carried into the atmosphere by a tropical air mass. As you can imagine, tropical air masses don’t often migrate their way up to Britain, but it was the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia that caused the unusual occurrence.

I for one have been sick of how much blue has been hogging the spotlight

Essentially, air moves from high to low pressure, and this movement is what us lot call wind. A hurricane is a low-pressure system, meaning lots of air get dragged into it, causing bloody strong winds. That’s why we got tropical air, and that’s why Newcastle was knocking on 20 degrees the other Monday. On its way this air mass picked up dust from both the Sahara and forest fires on the Iberian Peninsula.

Now here’s where the Geography becomes a nifty bit of Physics. We see the red sky because the dust that was dragged up into the atmosphere by the storm causes the blue light to scatter due to its short light wavelength. That leaves the longer wavelength of the red light to shine on through and take rare ownership of the sky. I for one have been sick of how much blue has been hogging the spotlight.

Whilst some have enjoyed the odd sky, for many it has a bit too much of an apocalyptic feel about it. A quick search in Twitter for ‘red sky’ and ‘apocalypse’ brings up some amusing results, and I’m sure for most of you will have seen how many Instagram posts of either the sun or the sky appeared today.

Aside from the general fears that the world may have ended, there were other reasons to not be enjoying the weather phenomenon.

Aside from the general fears that the world may have ended, there were other reasons to not be enjoying the weather phenomenon occurring outside our windows. Namely, the asthmatics.

Asthma charity Asthma UK issued an official warning effectively telling everyone to stay inside to make sure their lungs maintain intact. Everyone else is welcome to inhale enough dust to contrast tuberculosis or any other slow-burning respiratory illness.

The real threat, as is always the case with these storms, is that of the wind. Watch one episode of ‘Ambulance’ on iPlayer, and you’ll soon learn that half of the East Midlands ends up in hospital because a particularly strong gust of wind topples a hanging basket onto someone’s head.

Death by daffodils is probably the way I’d like to go in these conditions if nuclear war or biblical apocalypse are no longer viable options, but for a young asthmatic such as myself, there are really a plethora of options as to which way you want to go. So much for shepherd’s delight.

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