The Medicane in the eastern Mediterranean Sea on October 30, 2016. Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
Nature hasn’t been nice to Europe recently. While the United States continues to enjoy calm and warm weather that's anything but usual for autumn, parts of Europe have been plagued by a string of natural disasters, including earthquakes, a relatively rare tropical cyclone in the Mediterranean Sea, and a tornado outbreak in Italy.
While hurricanes are a frequent visitor to most oceans around the world, there are a few large bodies of water where these spiraling windstorms are noticeably absent. The southern parts of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are characteristically empty of tropical storms and hurricanes, due to cold water and strong winds that fill the sky above them. (Only occasionally is there a tropical or subtropical storm that manages to briefly spin to life off the coast of Brazil near Rio de Janeiro.)
Similarly, the Mediterranean Sea is typically quiet. The Mediterranean’s water is usually too cold and regional weather patterns too hostile for hurricanes to form, but they do happen from time to time. Tropical cyclones that form in the Mediterranean are unofficially called “Medicanes.” Medicanes are typically small, and generally not more intense than tropical storm strength (39–73 mph winds). Tropical cyclones form so infrequently in the Mediterranean that no weather agency officially tracks these storms when they do form, leaving these uncommon systems without the standard tracking maps we’re accustomed to using.
What we do know about the Medicane that formed in the final days of October is that it came to life off the southern coast of Italy near the island of Malta, forming from a non-tropical low-pressure system. It was able to get organized when it moved over abnormally warm sea waters. The unnamed tropical storm tracked east toward Greece, producing a 60-mph wind gust and widespread street flooding on the island of Crete.
Just one week after the Medicane, and days after a series of powerful earthquakes struck central Italy, a separate potent (but non-tropical) storm swept over southern Europe—producing more damage than the photogenic storm that preceded it.
A severe thunderstorm spawned a powerful tornado in the small coastal town of Ladispoli, Italy, which sits about 20 miles to the west of Rome. The tornado was particularly strong and long-lived, causing damage from the coast to the town of Cesano, 16 miles to the northeast. The storm reportedly killed two people and injured many more as it destroyed buildings and uprooted trees from the ground.
While the United States and Canada jointly see the vast majority of the tornadoes that touch down each year, other parts of the world aren’t immune from these ferocious whirlwinds. Tornadoes are common in places like Australia, South Africa, Bangladesh, and most of Europe. These are all areas where severe thunderstorms are capable of tapping into strong wind shear—a vital ingredient required for the development of tornadoes. But hopefully there aren’t more such storms in store for Europe this year.