Winter in the Mediterranean – gales, rain and hypothermia
Storms in the Mediterranean can, at their worst, resemble hurricanes in all but name. This may come as a surprise if your experience of this part of the world is of sunbathing on the sands of Spain, or wandering in the olive groves of Greece.
The report of hypothermia in refugees rescued from the m.v. Blue Sky M off the coast of southern Italy, may sound odd in waters whose summer temperatures approach 30C. The Mediterranean, though, is a shallow sea and loses heat rapidly during the winter.
The temperature now around the coast of Puglia, southern Italy is 14C but this is only part of the story:
The European winter had been mild until a plunge of arctic air froze the ground and brought snow and ice, from Belgium to Bosnia, in the last days of December. This morning, there is snow on the ground, a rare sight, in the fields around Brindisi.
And once again, it is the contrast in temperature, as cold air overrides relatively warm water, that can cause major storm circulations to form. In the end-of-the-year winter storm in the central Mediterranean, the northerly wind reached gale force, and produced gusts of 93kmh in Tunis.
The temperature at the time was 6 degrees Celsius and with windchill on the human body, that feels like -4 Celsius. The consequent body heat loss can produce hypothermia.
And then there’s the rain. Crete collected over 200mm of rain in more than two days of incessant, sometimes thundery rain. And the waves – even now, whilst the storm has collapsed, the seas run high.
Five metre waves still smash onto the west coast of Cyprus, and footage shot on the first day of 2015 shows three metre waves crashing against the man-made barriers outside the natural harbour of Brindisi.
Clearly, winter in the Mediterranean can whip up violent storms that extend from the European to African coast; create very rough seas, gale force winds, thunder, and rain that last for days. To be out in such conditions will also expose anyone to windchill which, when you’re wet, becomes potentially fatal.