January 1993 was one of the most stormy months of the 20th century in the Northern Atlantic and also one of the wettest Januarys in Scotland. During one of the storms, on 5 January 1993, the oil tanker Braer became stranded on rocks off Shetland in a severe gale, causing one of the biggest oil spills ever and creating a major environmental disaster in an internationally known wildlife area. The ship was carrying almost double the amount of crude oil that was aboard the Exxon Valdez when it ran aground in Alaska in 1989. The Braer finally broke up completely during a subsequent storm on 10-11 January 1993 (see above Meteosat image) which established a record central low pressure of 916 hPa (confirmed) for the north Atlantic (913 hPa claimed) and which is the lowest recorded mean sea level pressure in the world outside of tropical storms and the centres of tornadoes.
On this occasion, all factors enhancing the rapid development of the low coincided, e.g. the position of the jet stream, the three-dimensional thermal struction of the atmosphere, development within an existing region of low pressure, the sea surface temperature, the polar ice, all leading to the formation of an incredibly deep low. In the world of meteorology, if a low deepens more than 24 hPa in 24 hours it is called "explosive cyclogenesis".
The two lowest barometric readings recorded in the Atlantic Ocean have occurred in the eighties and nineties of the 20th century. The first was the Atlantic Cyclone of 15 December 1986, which deepened to 916 hPa, and the other was the storm of 10-11 January 1993 which is much better documented. According to Gulev et al. (2001), Northern Hemisphere winter cyclones have intensified and produced deeper central mean sea level pressures in recent decades. However, these winter cyclones also appear to have shorter life cycles and dissipate more quickly.
The picture below shows the
stranded oil tanker Braer:
Gulev, S.K., Zolina, O. and Grigoriev, S. 2001. Extratropical cyclone variability in the Northern Hemisphere winter from the NCEP/NCAR reanalysis data. Climate Dynamics 17: 795-809
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