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Medicanes: the dangerous storms in the mediterranean
Blog...Medicanes: the dangerous storms in the mediterranean

Medicanes: the dangerous storms in the mediterranean

Ecology News
Global Warming
tropical cyclone
In this article we’ll explore what a medicane is, and why they’re a growing threat in the Mediterranean region.
Ecology News
tropical cyclone

The Mediterranean region, traditionally not known for severe weather events like hurricanes, has witnessed a noticeable increase in the severity of Mediterranean hurricanes, or "medicanes." These rare yet powerful storms share characteristics with tropical cyclones, such as strong winds and heavy rainfall, which can lead to flash flooding, coastal flooding, and wind damage. Despite their smaller size and shorter duration than tropical cyclones, medicanes pose a significant threat to the Mediterranean basin, particularly coastal communities and infrastructure. As the climate continues to deteriorate and sea temperatures rise, understanding, preparing for, and mitigating the impacts of these storms is becoming increasingly crucial.

👉 In this article we’ll explore what a medicane is, and why they’re a growing threat in the Mediterranean region. 

What is a medicane?

The term Medicane is a combination of the words ‘Mediterranean’ and ‘hurricane’, it describes the meteorological phenomenon of a Mediterranean tropical-like cyclone. The term is known to scientists and meteorologists but has only recently entered the public lexicon due to their rise in intensity in recent years. 

Medicanes are a rare occurrence but are most likely to occur between September and January. Unlike a true tropical cyclone, medicanes are usually non-tropical in nature, developing over open water under cold-core cyclones. It’s this cold air that seems to form the instability leading to the development of a medicane.

image of hurricane from outer space

What's the difference between a hurricane and a medicane?

Medicanes, like hurricanes (i.e. tropical cyclones) develop spiraling clouds and a central ‘eye’, which is an area of lighter winds and fairer weather at the center of the storm - on satellite imagery, this looks like a swirling mass of storm clouds surrounding a clear center. 

However, medicanes tend to be smaller in diameter, have lower wind speeds, and die out quicker. Tropical cyclones for example (also referred to as hurricanes or typhoons), measure between 100 and 1000 km in diameter, have wind speeds of up to 320 kilometers per hour, and last a duration of anywhere between a day to a month. Medicanes on the other hand, will typically range between 70 and 200 km in size, have wind speeds of up to 144 km/h, and last for a duration of up to 3 days

Another difference between the two is that medicanes form over the Mediterranean Sea, above waters with lower temperatures than the tropical oceans that give rise to hurricanes. 

Hurricanes tend to form near the equator over warm ocean waters. They develop when a cluster of thunderstorms suck up the warm, humid air and push it high into the Earth’s atmosphere. This warm air produces energy, allowing the hurricane's strong circular winds to form around a low-pressure center - i.e. the eye of the storm. 

Medicanes on the other hand, develop when cold air intrusions move south over the Mediterranean Sea. The lower layers of the atmosphere heat over the warmer water, however, the upper atmosphere remains cold. This creates atmospheric instability resulting in thunderstorms, which can then develop into medicanes. These storms tend to form in the central and western parts of the Mediterranean and along the North African coastline. 

Crucially, because of the smaller geographic area in which medicanes form, these storms are smaller and weaker than their tropical cousins, with maximum strength reaching no higher than a category 1 hurricane. However, that’s not to say that these storms aren’t dangerous. 

👉 To discover the impact of climate change on hurricanes head over to our article on the topic. 

stormy waves

What is the impact of a medicane?

Much like tropical cyclones, medicanes are also responsible for strong winds and large amounts of rain that can cause damage such as flooding and landslides. In recent years we’ve seen a number of these destructive storms making landfall, though 2023 marked the most devastating medicane yet. 

Storm Daniel (also referred to as Cyclone Daniel), which formed in September 2023 was particularly destructive. The medicane was the deadliest in recorded history, impacting Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey before moving along the coast of Libya where it was responsible for catastrophic flooding. 

It’s estimated that the medicane will cost the Greek economy around 5 billion euros in short-term costs alone. However it was Libya who was undoubtedly the worst hit by the storm. Torrential rain in the country put pressure on the country's water system, causing two dams near the city of Derna to collapse. There have been over 4,000 confirmed deaths resulting from the disaster, though with over 9,000 people still missing the actual number is expected to be much higher.

youtube screenshot

Storm Daniel is a startling reminder of how much damage Mediterranean cyclones can cause. Medicanes bring with them a slew of potentially devastating impacts and associated risks, particularly in terms of flash flooding, coastal flooding, and extreme wind damage. Let’s take a closer look at these risks: 

Coastal flooding

The coastal regions are particularly susceptible to the impacts of medicanes, with the combination of strong winds and wave propagation leading to severe coastal flooding. This phenomenon not only poses a threat to coastal habitats and ecosystems but also endangers human settlements, critical infrastructure, and economic activities situated along the coast. The resulting damage can have far-reaching consequences, impeding the livelihoods of local communities and necessitating substantial recovery efforts.

Flash flooding 

Medicanes are characterized by their ability to bring about a substantial surplus of rainfall within a short duration. This intense rainfall can quickly overwhelm drainage systems, leading to flash floods that can wreak havoc on communities. The rapid rise of floodwaters can cause extensive material damage to infrastructure, homes, and businesses. 

Extreme wind damage

Medicanes, with their potential to unleash winds of up to 144 km/h, present a serious challenge to the structural integrity of buildings and infrastructure across the Mediterranean region. These extreme winds can cause widespread damage, affecting not just roofs, but entire buildings, utility lines, trees, and more.

👉 To learn more about the impacts of flooding and the resulting economic consequences check out our article

coastal storm

Are medicanes getting worse due to climate change?

According to scientists, medicanes are getting more intense. This is because the temperature of the sea is rising as a result of climate change, creating more of a differential with the cooler air trapped in the upper atmosphere. This gives more power to the cyclone. 

Warmer water also results in increased rates of evaporation and higher moisture content, which makes the associated rainfall much more extreme. In fact, experts estimate that we’re now experiencing 10 to 20% more rainfall compared to pre-industrialization medicanes. 

Worryingly, research shows that medicanes are likely to become even more intense as a result of continued rising sea temperatures, with stronger winds and heavier rainfall predicted. Though interestingly, the frequency of these storms is not expected to increase, in fact, the higher number of “moderate and violent medicanes” comes at the “expense of weaker storms”. 

👉 Head over to our article on climate change to learn more about its causes and effects. 

youtube screenshot

What can we do to reduce the impact of medicanes?

Even though scientists don’t expect the Mediterranean basin to experience a higher number of medicanes, they are predicted to become more intense and dangerous, which raises the question: what can we do to reduce their impact and enhance resilience against these severe weather events? 

To protect communities in the Mediterranean region from more extreme medicanes a multifaceted approach that encompasses preparedness, infrastructure upgrades, and community awareness is necessary. Let’s examine what this means…

  • Enhanced early warning systems - Investing in advanced meteorological technologies and forecasting models can improve the accuracy and timeliness of weather predictions, providing crucial early warnings to affected regions. Rapid dissemination of information through various communication channels ensures that communities have sufficient time to prepare and evacuate if necessary.
  • Infrastructure resilience - Upgrading and reinforcing buildings, especially roofing structures, is vital to withstand the extreme winds associated with medicanes. Coastal defenses such as sea walls, breakwaters, and sand dunes can be enhanced or constructed to protect against storm surges and coastal flooding. Additionally, improving drainage systems helps to prevent and manage flash flooding effectively. 
  • Urban planning and zoning - Implementing and enforcing strict building codes and zoning regulations can prevent construction in high-risk areas, particularly in flood-prone and coastal zones. Promoting the integration of green spaces and permeable surfaces in urban planning helps to reduce surface runoff and the risk of flooding.
  • Community preparedness and education - Raising awareness and educating communities about the risks and preparedness measures for medicanes is crucial. Conducting regular drills, distributing emergency preparedness kits, and establishing clear evacuation plans can empower residents to respond effectively in the event of a medicane.
  • Climate change mitigation - Addressing the broader issue of climate change, which contributes to the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events like medicanes, is essential. Adopting sustainable practices, transitioning to renewable energy sources, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are key strategies for mitigating the long-term impacts of climate change.
  • Investment in research - Allocating resources to further research on medicanes, their patterns, behavior, and impacts, can provide valuable insights that inform better preparedness and response strategies. Collaboration between governments, scientific communities, and international organizations enhances knowledge sharing and the development of innovative solutions.
By implementing these strategies, communities in the Mediterranean region can reduce the vulnerability to medicanes, protect lives and property, and enhance the overall resilience of societies against these formidable weather events.

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