Friday, October 21, 2011

Roman Flooding

How is it possible that just three hours of heavy rain can flood a city?

Other cities have blizzards, earthquakes, hurricanes, monsoons, tornados, tsunamis! And they trudge through, brave and battle-weary. Rome has a particularly heavy downpour and the city grinds to a halt. I left for work extra early yesterday morning, because after 7 years in this city, I know well that a half-way decent rainstorm (and particularly the first of the season) can cause major traffic delays. You see, no one wants to get wet, so many of the thousands and thousands of people who usually take a scooter to work or use public transportation, decide to take their cars instead.

I don't actually mind being out in the rain, not when I'm prepared for it. I put on my trusty red Wellies and matching raincoat and grab a non-street-bought umbrella and make the best of it. It was a decidedly wet day but nothing out of the ordinary. In fact I've seen much, much worse in this city in years past, so I was stunned to learn that parts of the city were flooded. I heard stories of people stuck in traffic for hours with water up to their car windows. Knowing the inclination for exaggeration so common in the Bel Paese, I had a hard time believing it until I saw the photos. Areas in certain parts of the city were under at least 4 feet of water, with schools, churches and even the Metro A shut down. Flooding was not confined to the suburbs, even the Roman Forum was submerged. (See photos of the Forum flooded here.)

Before the Tiber's enbankments were built back in the late 19th century, the swollen river would regularly burst its banks and flood the city, sometimes up to 6 or 7 feet. Plaques on several churches in the flat Campus Martius area of Rome testify to these events, proudly indicating how high the water level reached.

 I'll never forget December of 2008 when the the river reached an unusually high level and everyone was afraid it would spill over and flood Trastevere. Nothing happened of course.

But yesterday's issue had nothing to do with the Tiber. A substatial but in no way excessive amount of water was dumped on the city, but for some reason, it seemed to have no where to go and the city was swept up in chaos. Mayor Alemanno even declared a state of calamity! Apparantly 74 milimeters (almost 3 inches) fell in just an hour and a half. Is that a lot? Perhaps I blithely missed all the fuss (maybe while I was on the bus, unable to see out the foggy windows). Still, I shudder to imagine what would happen if a true meteorological disaster befell this city.
Today's weather? Couldn't have been more gorgeous with sunny skies and temperatures in the sixties and no trace of yesterday's drama. It amazes me how fast the weather can change in this town, like the time in 2010 when a veritable blizzard turned the city white on a February morning. By two in the afternoon the sun was shining and the snow had all melted away, as if it had never been. Ah, Roma, you always keep us guessing.
Photo sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Liked it? Then share:
StumbleUpon Pin It


  1. The rain was excessive. It was the worst storm in Rome since the 50s.

    I have seen storms that dump a lot of rain before, but they only last a few minutes. This storm was bananas.

    At least nobody died. There have been several deaths in Tuscany due to heavy flooding.

  2. That's what everybody is saying (I actually read that this was one of the three heaviest downpours in the last decade) and I'm not saying I don't believe it, I just don't know how I missed it! I left the house on foot at seven am, and was out until the rain died down (and outside for a good chunk of that time) and it was (from what I could tell) no worse than many other rainstorms that I have experienced in this city over the last 7 years. Obviously I am wrong, but I just don't get how. I was in Trastevere and Prati, perhaps the rain was falling more heavily on the other side of town??

  3. I was in Campo dei Fiori and while it was bad, nothing flooded in my area.

    I walked over to Monti for a meeting and it was a different story. The rain had stopped by then but it looked like a river had run through the area.

    That said, we were lucky in Rome. I can't believe the photo of Cinque Terre. It's so sad.

  4. True, the photos are sickening. Some say Cinque Terre will never return to its former state. I hope this isn't true.

  5. Hi
    I'm a hydrogeologist, actually working on the problem of flooding in Rome for a public agency (even if it's a more "hydrologic" problem, but however...). I want to state that on 20/10/2011 the maximum mm of rain were 160 (in a very wide area running in SE-NW direction from Casal Palocco to Settecamini- so, far away from Prati and Trastevere), and NOT 74. For sure it was an extreme event. Metereologist use the term "extreme" for events exceeding 40 mm in 30 min,60 mm in 1h, 80 mm in 2h, etc. on October 20th we had from 15 to 75 mm in 1h. SO, IT WAS AN EXTREME EVENT. Then, it must be said also that the city was not "ready" for a big storm; it was the first storm after summer,the waste water main network was completely obstructed by dry leaves, and it couldn't drain the rain. And THIS is a disfunction in the municipal management. One more thing: ONE people died, in Casal Palocco. So, ok, Italians love exaggeration (in ROme especially), but let's consider true data before assessing anything...thank you

    1. Thank you for your thorough and well-informed post, Cristina! As I state at the bottom of this blog, it is not a journalistic blog and more based on my personal experiences. Also, I wrote this post very soon after it happened, and every news organization was claiming a different amount of rain, so it was impossible for me to know or report at that time exactly how much rain fell. I have no doubt that your numbers are correct, and therefore it was certainly an extraoridnary event. I was more stunned (as I mention in earlier comments) that I somehow missed it all. (And of course that Rome was sadly unprepared for it). Thanks for commenting!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...