What is a Medicane?

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The Mediterranean Sea is a body of water almost completely surrounded by land. The southern part of Europe lies to the north and the northern tip of Africa lies to the south.

The Mediterranean Sea connects to the Atlantic Ocean via the Strait of Gibraltar, an opening separating the coasts of Spain from Morocco by 14.3 kilometers (8.9 miles) at the most narrow point.

Map of the Mediterranean Sea with subdivisions, straits, islands and countries by O H 237, MediaWiki Commons under license CC BY 4.0.
Map of the Mediterranean Sea with subdivisions, straits, islands and countries by O H 237, MediaWiki Commons under license CC BY 4.0.

With the surrounding dry climate and the relatively shallow waters of the sea, the occurrence of tropical-like cyclones is infrequent but it does happens.

These storms are often referred to as Medicanes, a concatenation of Mediterranean with hurricanes.

Like tropical storms, medicanes have a symmetric structure, a warm core, a clearly visible eye, and winds of at least tropical-storm strength. Medicanes are typically smaller in diameter and have lower wind speeds than true tropical cyclones.

Medicanes typically form in the fall or winter months and occur once or twice a year.

One such medicane formed on November 18, 2017. Named “Numa” by the Free University of Berlin’s Institute of Meteorology, which struck Greece, causing flash floods, killing 20 people, and damaging over 1,000 houses.

NOAA/NASA's Suomi NPP captured this image of a rare tropical-like storm system in the Mediterranean Sea intensifying off of Italy's southern coast on November 18, 2017. The image shows a well-defined eyewall as the storm entered the Ionian Sea between Italy and Greece. Image: NOAA, public domain.
NOAA/NASA’s Suomi NPP captured this image of a rare tropical-like storm system in the Mediterranean Sea intensifying off of Italy’s southern coast on November 18, 2017. The image shows a well-defined eyewall as the storm entered the Ionian Sea between Italy and Greece. Image: NOAA, public domain.

More recently, a medicane was recorded from September 14th – 20th, 2020, flooding parts of Greece. The medicane was named “Ianos” by the National Observatory of Athens.

NASA’s IMERG algorithm was able to calculate rainfall amounts from this medicane with values in some areas >25 millimeters/hour.

The animation below shows the path and precipitation rates of Ianos as it made its way across the Mediterranean before making landfall over Greece.

References

Fecht, S. (2017, November 21). What we know about Medicanes—Hurricane-like storms in the Mediterranean. State of the Planet. https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2017/11/21/what-we-know-about-medicanes-hurricane-like-storms-in-the-mediterranean/

West, J. (2020, September 23). IMERG sees flooding rainfall in the Greek islands from Medicane Ianos. NASA Global Precipitation Measurement Mission. https://gpm.nasa.gov/applications/weather/imerg-sees-flooding-rainfall-greek-islands-medicane-ianos

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