January 24, 2022 2:10 pm

Most frequent tornadoes along the Mediterranean, forecast of a study

Daniel Ingemi Meteored Italy 6 min
A new study highlights why warmer seas can make tornadoes more frequent and violent.

In recent days we have attended a multiplication of sightings of sea sleeves and tornadoes off the Italian coasts, which these days have also happened in Barcelona o Alicante, partly due to new technologies and current social networks, which make these phenomena more and more visible compared to a few decades ago. As a result of this, in recent years, especially along the Mediterranean, there is a growing tendency to see these extreme weather events, in comparison with the climatological average of the last decades.

How do tornadoes and sea sleeves develop?

We must know that tornadoes and sea sleeves are not exactly the same. The only real difference between a tornado and a tornado lies in the storm that generated it. . Tornadoes form inside storm cells that present, inside, a vortex movement, induced by the presence of a small low pressure inside the cumulonimbus, called mesocyclone.

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Such storms, provided with an internal rotating movement, are called supercells and represent the most violent type of storm found in nature.

What is the connection between these phenomena and climate change?

To answer this complex question, it is necessary to use the scientific method, making use of laws of thermodynamics represented in meteorological models, describing the exchanges of water vapor and the flows of energy and heat between the sea and the atmosphere. Thermodynamics, in this case, tells us that in the development of these highly localized events, such as a tornado, an important parameter is the sea surface temperature.

This is because a warmer sea provides more energy to a tornado, which also causes it to become particularly violent. As long as these tornadoes remain at sea or hit areas that are not densely populated there is no problem. However, when these phenomena touch the ground, passing through inhabited centers, cities or large industrial centers, we find very serious damage and sometimes tragedies.

Marine sleeves
Two sea sleeves in action off the coast of Liguria.

The new scientific study on Mediterranean tornadoes

A recent scientific article, published in the international journal Scientific Reports, explains exactly why a warmer sea than the climatological average can stimulate these phenomena, such as those recently observed in southern Sicily. In this scientific article, the authors take as an example the tornado that hit the port area of ​​the Italian city of Taranto and the ILVA plant, on November 28, 2012, causing a death (a factory worker) and damages of 60 million euros.

During that tornadic event, the temperature of the Ionian Sea was around +1 ° C above the climatological average of the period (This being a very recent average, because it refers to the two decades from 1985-2005, and therefore related to a stretch in which global warming was already advanced).

Here is the direct correlation between the warm sea and the development of tornadoes

Using the sea temperature data, applied a high resolution meteorological model (approximately 1 km grid), which proved to be able to correctly reproduce the trajectory of the supercell which led to the tornado of Taranto.

The same authors carried out another simulation with the same exact model, but taking as a reference the sea temperatures with values ​​close to the climatological average of the period. This last simulation showed how with a sea temperature of only -1 °C (on the average, therefore), the famous supercell would not have formed and consequently the tornado would not have developed. On the contrary, as the temperature increases in +1 °C the tornado would have been even more intense.

The study, carried out by illustrious authors in Italy, such as Mario Marcello Miglietta, Jordi Mazon, Vincenzo Motola and Antonello Pasini, has highlighted how our Mediterranean is increasingly used to this type of violent phenomenon. Its intensity is destined to increase more rapidly once a certain temperature value is exceeded, with inevitable repercussions in our territories.


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