Medicanes in Greece: the small hurricanes of the Mediterranean

Medicanes in Greece: the small hurricanes of the Mediterranean

Medicanes arise from marked low-pressure systems, triggering severe storms. Forget about sailing in one.

Medicanes are Mediterranean weather phenomena similar in strength to mild hurricanes. They form rapidly due to low-pressure systems, bringing a sharp drop in temperature, heavy rainfall, and strong winds. While commonly forming near Greece, their impact spreads across Albania, Croatia, and Italy.

When the sky over the sea is covered in clouds

In September 2023, Greece was struck by a very powerful medicane named Zorba, characterized by heavy rainfall, strong winds, and snow in elevated areas. The Peloponnese and Crete were the most affected, with Zakynthos in Crete seeing closures of schools and ports as a precautionary response. Despite the severity of the storm, it did not result in significant damage, but authorities recommended that the public stay inside where possible.

Nonetheless, medicanes are a relatively common occurrence in Greece, typically happening once or twice annually. In November 2017, one such medicane caused severe destruction with its torrential rains and winds that blasted at speeds reaching 180 kilometers per hour. Athens bore the brunt of this storm, resulting in halted traffic, structural damage to properties, uprooted trees, and widespread power outages.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Medicanes are extremely dangerous for sailors and are not safe to sail in. But this isn't the only wind that can endanger your sailing. Discover where to shelter from the Bora in Croatia.

Pantanassa, Greece

Pantanassa, Greece

When the Mediterranean Sea’s tranquil blues are overshadowed by gathering dark clouds, a medicane may be brewing. These systems form due to significant low-pressure areas, leading to a sudden temperature plunge and relentless rainfall.

Beyond Greece, medicanes also cast a shadow over other Mediterranean nations, particularly those lining the Adriatic Sea. Croatia, for instance, has been prompted to issue a number of warnings due to such systems, alerting to the dangers of forceful wind gusts and heavy downpours. As a result, the adverse conditions have occasionally forced restrictions on both sea travel and road transport, with some coastal routes and bridges closed to lorries and buses to prevent accidents in the stormy winds.

YACHTING.COM TIP: If you find yourself caught in a storm at sea, you need to act quickly. Check out our article for tips on how to sail safely in a storm and how to prepare for a stormy night at anchor. Remember, being prepared means no surprises!

What is a low-pressure system?

A low-pressure system, or depression, is a meteorological term referring to an area in the atmosphere where the atmospheric pressure is lower than the ambient pressure. These lows influence weather and climate significantly and are instrumental in various meteorological phenomena.

The basic features of a low pressure system are:

• Atmospheric Pressure: It's marked by atmospheric pressure that's lower than its environment, leading to a gradient that drives air toward the lower pressure zone.

• Air Movement: The pressure disparity initiates air movement toward the low. This movement can be upwards, often resulting in cloud formation and potential precipitation.

• Weather Patterns: Lows are pivotal in developing weather patterns, including thunderstorms and cyclones. Extreme weather conditions frequently stem from these low-pressure systems.

• Wind Direction: Around a low, wind tends to flow inward; in the Northern Hemisphere, this is in a clockwise pattern, while it's counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

• Origins: Various factors such as temperature variances, humidity levels, and the interaction of different air masses can lead to the formation of pressure lows. Over oceans, these systems can escalate into tropical cyclones.

Monitoring pressure lows is vital for meteorologists, as they can lead to impactful weather events, affecting safety and property through flooding, wind damage, and other severe conditions. This understanding is also crucial for predicting and preparing for medicanes.

Pressure below


YACHTING.COM TIP: Are you planning a holiday on a yacht? Preparation and weather monitoring are key. See where hurricanes occur in exotic yachting destinations.

History of Medicanes in the Mediterranean

Medicanes — short for Mediterranean hurricanes — are unique weather events that can cause significant destruction in the Mediterranean region. Though similar to hurricanes and typhoons in structure, medicanes are usually less powerful, yet their developmental patterns and impacts are distinctive due to the Mediterranean's geographical features.

Throughout recorded history, several notable medicanes have left a mark on the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, disrupting infrastructure, altering environments, and impacting the lives of many. Noteworthy historical medicane events include:

• Medicane Zorbas (October 2018): This storm hit Greece, particularly affecting the port of Fiskardo on Cephalonia island, resulting in extensive damage. Zorbas was strong, many tourists and locals were forced to evacuate from the threatened areas.

• Medicane Janos (September 2000): Caused significant flooding and triggered landslides, posing considerable challenges to the affected regions.

• Medicane Cleopatra (December 2013): A particularly devastating event that resulted in severe floods, claiming lives and causing extensive property damage. 

• Medicane Ianos (September 2020): Among the stronger medicanes recorded, it brought intense flooding and heavy rainfall, especially to western Greece, causing widespread destruction.

• Medicane Telemachos (February 2022): Known for causing floods and powerful winds that led to serious infrastructural challenges.

Consequences of the Ianos Medikan, Greece 09/2020.

Consequences of the Ianos Medikan, Greece 09/2020.

The history of medicane events in the Mediterranean highlights their unpredictable nature and potential for significant impact. Although not as powerful as full-scale hurricanes or typhoons, medicanes can still cause extensive property damage, endanger lives, and lead to environmental degradation. As a result, Mediterranean countries, along with their residents, tourists, and seafarers, must always be aware of these storms and adequately prepared for their possible consequences.

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