A Mediterranean tropical-like cyclone, also called a medicane, was recorded south of Italy on Oct. 27, 2005. A Mediterranean tropical-like cyclone, also called a medicane, was recorded south of Italy on Oct. 27, 2005. A Mediterranean tropical-like cyclone, also called a medicane, was recorded south of Italy on Oct. 27, 2005. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Do hurricanes happen in the Mediterranean?

It's a rare phenomenon, but it's happened before. It's even got a name – medicane.

As much of the East Coast has been bracing for Hurricane Joaquin – with all its twists, turns and changes in speed and course – it got us thinking about how this potentially destructive weather phenomenon is viewed in a global context. We know there are hurricanes in North and Central America, but what about other parts of the world? Are there hurricanes in Asia? Europe? Do tropical systems form over the Mediterranean Sea like they do over the Atlantic?

We did some digging, and it turns out, it's all a matter of terminology. Hurricanes do form in the Mediterranean region, which includes Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Turkey and Tunisia. But they're not typically called hurricanes. They're called medicanes, which is a portmanteau (a word that combines two other words) of "Mediterranean" and "hurricane." It's a rare event, one that's been recorded only 100 times since 1948, and it happens so infrequently because of the dry climate of the region.

The below video shows radar of the last recorded medicane, in November 2014, off the coast of Sicily:

That storm, named Qendresa, recorded wind gusts up to 66 mph and wreaked costly damage to the islands of Sicily, Linosa and Malta.

So why are these medicanes so rare? Dr. Jeff Masters, a hurricane expert who co-founded Weather Underground and blogs frequently about weather phenomenon, said the conditions of the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding countries are very different than those in and around the Gulf Stream. For one, the Mediterranean is quite far north, and its waters are shallow, with relatively low heat content. It also has many large islands and peninsulas poking into it, "increasing the chances that a tropical storm would weaken when it encountered land," he said.

Just in the last few hours, in fact, a storm that almost approached "medicane" status was detected near Sardinia, southeastern France and Italy, threatening the region with heavy rain, strong winds and rough surf. According to AccuWeather, however, the mountainous terrain of Sardinia and Corsica will keep the storm from strengthening and causing havoc.

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