The 5 most devastating hurricanes in recent years in Italy and the Mediterranean Sea


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They are called “medicanes” and have the same origin, shape and destructive power as tropical hurricanes. Only they occur from us in the Mediterranean, and by now sailors and mariners are familiar with them. Here are the 5 most devastating ones that have hit Italy in the last 30 years.

It used to be that globetrotting sailors only needed to consult any pilot book or nautical guidebook to avert the danger of encountering hurricanes and tropical storms on their route in a certain season. They were very precise and absolutely reliable directions on which the safety of navigations and ports of call were staked.

For many years, unfortunately, this has not been the case, as these devastating weather events now multiply disproportionately throughout the year, are increasingly powerful, and extend their boundaries far beyond the tropical areas where they usually originated in the past.

hurricanes in the Mediterranean

Hurricane “Otis” devastates yachts and marina in Acapulco

The latest virulent phenomenon is Hurricane “Otis,” which hit the waters of Acapulco, Mexico in recent days, destroying hundreds of yachts moored in bays along the coast and in marinas, as well as razing homes, roads and infrastructure. There was also no shortage of casualties. The army was deployed on the ground to rescue people and secure buildings and homes.

Hurricane “Otis,” which is classified as a Category 5 hurricane, had been widely heralded by the National Hurricane Center (NHC), but the reality has gone far beyond predictions. Winds gusted to 150 knots, with gusts up to 190. Some aerial shots of the Playa Larga area, which is popular with tourists and boaters, give an idea of the devastation this storm was able to generate.



Even the Mediterranean is not safe from storms

However, it is not only tropical countries and seas that are affected by hurricanes, cyclones and storms. The Mediterranean Sea itself, which in the past was largely spared from such destructive phenomena, has not been a safe zone for several years now. Those who live on land know this well, and those who navigate these waters know it even better. But what are the differences between a tropical cyclone and a Mediterranean one? In reality, very few, as meteorologists tell us, apart from the name.

Mediterranean hurricanes in the vernacular are called “Medicane,” a term that is the crasis of “Mediterranean Hurricane” or “Tropical Like Cyclone (TLC). Just like tropical storms, these are low-pressure systems characterized by heavy rainfall and intense winds in which you can recognize a small, well-delineated “eye” at their center.

Famous Italian regattas hit by tornadoes

Medicanes or TLCs arise like normal hurricanes and draw energy from the ever-warming sea. Once the vortex forms, the power of the hurricane is fueled by the flow of heat and moisture provided by the sea and unleashes tremendously powerful winds that discharge over the sea surface until they reach land with the devastating effects we know.

Since forecasts, studies and satellite observations have been available, there have been many documented cases of Hurricanes in the Mediterranean. Those who follow the world of sailing competitions will surely remember historic storms, such as the one that devastated the 2016 Giraglia with dozens of boats rescued by helicopters at night, masts and rudders destroyed, and sadly 3 victims among the participants. Other sensational storms included the Gorla Trophy on Lake Garda in 2003 with 70-knot winds and the Barcolana in 2000 when the Bora blew at 60 knots.

In recent years, however, Italy has also experienced weather events of tropical proportions in terms of destructive power and surprise effect. There are at least 5 that have swept and devastated our coastlines, with extensive damage to yacht fleets, marinas and shipyards. And in some cases even causing some casualties. Here they are in chronological order and accompanied by pictures that give an idea of the force of nature they unleashed.

The “perfect storm” in Emilia Romagna, 2023

In order of time, the last weather-related catastrophic phenomenon to occur in Italy was the Emilia-Romagna region of 2023. During May 2-17, a heavy occluded weather front of Atlantic origin, fed in turn by a Mediterranean cyclone, generated persistent rainfall, flooding, overflow and landslides over the region. Exacerbating the situation also came an Afro-Mediterranean depression vortex, in short, a kind of “perfect storm,” which has never happened before.

On the coast, the sea invaded the beach, all the way to the bathing establishments, and some flooding rivers overflowed. Hundreds of boats broke moorings and spilled overboard or smashed on rocks. Maritime municipalities were hardest hit, including Gatteo a Mare, the Bellaria Canal Port and Igea Marina. But also Cervia and Milano marittima.



Hurricane “Derecho” destroys Corsica, 2022

Another violent and destructive weather event never before recorded by any weather service was the “Derecho” hurricane that swept Corsica on August 18, 2022. It was a strong gale, sudden and absolutely not predicted, not even by the professionals of Meteo France that hit the northern part of the island with unprecedented violence doing a lot of damage and causing many boats to be beached. Those who were there, either sailing or moored in the bay, described it as hell: winds over 100 knots, massive rain, zero visibility.

Within 24 hours, 110 sea rescues were carried out. Most of these to rescue damaged, beached or stranded boats, 48 in total. In these rescue operations, which involved 6 helicopters and all available watercraft, 500 people were assisted among the boat crews, including 12 injured (2 very seriously) and 2 victims.



Storm “Vaia” brings Rapallo to its knees, 2018

Giant waves as high as 9 meters, winds over 90 knots, ports and cities on their knees were the result of storm “Vaia” that hit Liguria between October 28 and 29, 2018. Meteorologists in their climate analysis identified a vortex, formed south of the Balearic Islands, that gradually deepened due to a powerful “jet streak,” which is an intense strong wind at altitude blowing above 10,000 meters associated with strong disturbances. Such wind at altitude works as a kind of vacuum: it sucks in air from below and creates a drop in pressure on the ground.

Rapallo’s was one of the hardest hit coastlines. Even the seawall of the Carlo Riva Harbor collapsed, and the sea began to seep into the harbor ripping boats from their moorings, sinking them or flinging them onto the streets of the town. The images of those days described a surreal scenery, like a giant true open-air boat graveyard. Fortunately, the Carlo Riva Harbor today is ready for new life.



The colossal flooding of Bocca di Magra, 2011

It was the morning of October 25, 2011, when a disturbance of colossal proportions hit the provinces of La Spezia and Massa and Carrara. In less than 6 hours, 542 millimeters of water is discharged resulting in the Vara and Magra rivers overflowing impetuously. The former killed 7 people, and the latter wiped out everything causing tens of millions in damage, especially to marinas and boathouses on the shores.

The scenario was apocalypse-like: yachts destroyed by the fury of the water, piers torn up, boat wreckage piled against the Colombiera bridge, meanwhile irreparably damaged by the flood wave. Other boats dragged by the river managed to cross the bridge and ended up in the sea prey to the looting of unscrupulous people.



The little cyclone “Zeo” that held Sicily in check, 2005

Finally, among the most violent medicanes that Italy has experienced in recent years is “Zeo,” which formed between the Sicilian Channel and the Libyan Sea in December 2005. Very strong easterly winds and flooding rains swept over Sicily, despite the fact that the eye of the cyclone was positioned closer to the African coast. Barometers touched lows of 995hPa, and Meteomed experts said in surprise, “While it does not reach the strength and size of tropical hurricanes, its similarity in shape is unbelievable.

The disturbance caused extensive damage both on land and along the coast due to storm surges, many boats and yachts sank, and there were also several casualties. In addition to stormy winds and heavy rains, tornadic cones exactly like tropical ones were spotted.



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