Scientists say the floods that sent rivers of sludge through towns in Italy’s northeast are another sobering dose of climate change that is happening around the world.
The coastal region of Emilia-Romagna was hit twice, first two weeks ago by heavy rain that parched parched ground that could not absorb it, causing rivers to overflow overnight, followed by this week’s deluge that killed 14 people and Damage estimated in the billions. Euro’s
In a changing climate, more rain is coming, but it is raining less useful and more dangerous on fewer days.
The worst affected Emilia-Romagna region was particularly sensitive. A weather system trapped between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea this week dumped half its average annual rainfall in 36 hours.
“These are events that have developed with persistence and are classified as rare,” Fabrizio Curcio, head of Italy’s civil protection agency, told reporters.
Officials said on Friday that 43 cities were affected by floods and landslides and more than 500 roads were closed or destroyed.
Antonello Passini, a climate scientist at Italy’s National Research Council, said a trend was establishing itself: “An increase in precipitation per year, for example, but a decrease in the number of rainy days and an increase in the intensity of rain are some of those On days when it rains,” he said.
Italy’s north has been scorched by two years of drought due to below-average snowfall during the winter months. Melting snow from the Alps, Dolomites and Apennines normally provides steady runoff through spring and summer that fills Italy’s lakes, irrigates agriculture and keeps the Po and other major rivers and tributaries flowing. .
Without that much snow in the mountains, plains have dried up and river beds, lakes and reservoirs have shrunk. Pasini said that even if it rains, they cannot recover because the land is essentially “impermeable” and rain washes only the upper surface and into the sea.
“So these extreme rains do not necessarily compensate for the drought,” he said, “because in northern Italy, drought depends more on snow accumulating in the Alps than rain.” And the last two years, we’ve had very little snow.”
Civil Protection Minister Nello Musumesi said Italians needed to adapt to the new normal of extreme weather events in the Mediterranean and that Italy would have to reconsider flood protection across the country. He cited the last storm’s landslide on the southern island of Ischia, off Naples, which killed 12 people.
“We can’t just pretend that nothing is happening,” he said on Thursday. “Everything must change: the programming in the hydraulic infrastructure must change, the engineering approach must change.”
He said the changes were necessary to prevent the kinds of floods that have caused entire cities to be filled with mud after two dozen rivers burst their banks.
The key going forward is prevention, he acknowledged, adding that it’s not an easy sell because of the cost.
“We are not a nation of prevention. We prefer to rebuild than prevent,” he said Sky TG 24.
Italy is not alone from drought to deluge. California and the United States West from a record-setting megadraft caused at least a dozen atmospheric rivers to slow their way through the region with so much rain that a long-dormant lake reappeared.
Scientists say floods of the kind seen in Germany and Belgium two years ago, which killed more than 220 people and caused billions of euros in damage, are more likely to occur as the planet warms.
“Rain events tend to be rain in many places,” Princeton University climate scientist Gabe Vecchi said Thursday.
In 2021, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Scientific Panel said it was “established fact” that humans’ greenhouse gas emissions had made for more frequent and intense weather extremes. The panel cited heat waves as the most obvious but said there has also been an increase in heavy rainfall events across much of the world.
The UN report said there is “strong evidence” that record rainfall and one in five, one in 10 and one in 20 years “have become more common since the 1950s.”