First continuous drought, then exceptional rains: what is happening in northern Italy?

Completely flooded banks and streets, landslides and many deaths: torrential rains make an ugly house in Italy these days. The ruins are particularly great in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna and in the northern Marken region.

In the past two months, not only has the region received twice the normal amount of rain, but the center of gravity of the rain has always been concentrated in a few days. First between May 1 and May 4, then again from May 15. Since part of the now affected area had already experienced heavy rains at the beginning of this month, the land was more vulnerable to these new heavy rains.

dry soil

The conclusion that this downpour does so much damage might be tantalizing: Wasn’t Italy really hungry for water after a long period of persistent drought? Climate scientist Massimiliano Pascoe warns in the paper: “Floods and droughts are two complementary phenomena that do not cancel each other out.” Corriere della Sera. To put it more simply, Italy really needed water, but heavy rains didn’t solve that problem. After all, the dry soil was unable to absorb such a massive amount of rain all of a sudden. This also resulted in flooding two weeks ago.

Also read this recent report on drought in northern Italy: Suddenly, even the farmers around Lake Garda were no longer sure about the water

This same area is now experiencing heavy rainfall for the second time, says Paola Salvati, a geologist and researcher at the Italian National Research Council (CNR). “When the first heavy rains came in early May, the water only seeped into the most superficial layer of soil, just below the surface,” Salvati explains. This has already saturated the soil and made it more vulnerable to new heavy rains.

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Now that it’s raining exceptionally hard again, the soil damaged from before can’t handle the new mass of water at all. “Compare it to a fully saturated sponge, which no longer absorbs excess water,” says the geologist. She adds that this analysis only applies to part of the affected area, which is a very wide area with diverse landscapes. Rivers burst their banks, dams break here and there, landslides follow in the higher regions: this backlog of disasters makes it even more complicated for the emergency services and the Italian government to respond adequately to the situation.

Climate change

The question on everyone’s lips: Is this exceptional rainfall linked to climate change? The researcher does not hesitate: sure. And because of global warming, extreme weather will happen more often, and in that sense it’s becoming more “normal.” Italian media warn that such news reports of severe drought or heavy rainfall will only increase. At the same time, they stress the importance of residents taking government warning signs seriously and closely following the associated advice.

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