Flooding in opposite ends of Europe: extreme rainfall in Cumbria and Sicily

A look at two different areas at opposite ends of Europe that have experienced flooding this week and are still at risk of further flooding.

Flooding in opposite ends of Europe: extreme rainfall in Cumbria and Sicily
Blog by Nick Finnis
Issued: 29th October 2021 11:20
Updated: 29th October 2021 11:26

Two areas of Europe nearly 2,000 miles apart have seen exceptional rainfall amounts and flooding this week, these two areas are Cumbria and Sicily. Opposite ends of Europe, with quite different climates and affected by quite different weather systems, albeit they both share the same antecedent to flooding of a persistent supply of warm moist air.


Cumbria and southern Scotland have been under an Atmospheric River or conveyor of warm moist Tropical maritime air this week, the river of moisture could be traced back across the Atlantic beyond the Azores to the sub-tropics. The conveyor of moisture-laden air marked on its northern side by a slow-moving and wriggling cold front separating the warm moist air to the south and cooler and drier polar maritime air to the north. The front serving to lift the warm moist air into cooler levels aloft condensing the moisture into heavy rain clouds. But the heaviness and persistence of the rain exacerbated by uplift of the higher ground of Cumbrian Fells. With the conveyor of moisture-laden air and the frontal boundary not moving much since Tuesday night until last night, the fells of Cumbria and SW Scotland have been racking up some large rainfall totals over 48 hours.

Rainfall over the past week in the UK:

Honister Pass in Cumbria has measured 385mm of rain since the rain started on Tuesday night. As a result, rivers have burst their banks in Cumbria and also over the border across Dumfries and Galloway in SW Scotland, flooding properties with hundreds of homes evacuated. Bridges have been washed away or damaged, roads and railways underwater - causing transport disruption.

More heavy rain is forecast to move across Cumbria and southern Scotland today and with rivers levels still high the risk of flooding will continue in prone low-lying areas for at least the next 24 hours.

Flood updates for England

Flood updates for Scotland


Meanwhile, heavy downpours over Sicily and parts of southern mainland Italy since the start of the week led to flash-flooding and landslides, with some fatalities of those caught up in the floods.

A strong storm system, known as a ‘Medicane’ centred between southern Italy and Libya brought up to 600 mm to parts of eastern Sicily since Sunday, with 300mm alone falling on Sunday alone in Catania, triggering flash-flooding and mudslides. There were videos on social media earlier in the week of raging rivers flowing down the streets of the port town of Catania on the east coast of Sicily earlier in the week. The body of a 67-year old man was recovered from a car in the city after his car was trapped by rising floodwaters, his wife reported missing.

Medicane is the name given for a non-tropical area of low pressure which develops over the warm waters of the Mediterranean at this time of year and develops tropical characteristics as it strengthens over warm waters with a warm core as opposed to cold core like the typical depressions we see move in off the Atlantic here in the UK.

The medicane storm system has been churning around at a snail’s pace over the southern Mediterranean between Sicily and the coast of Libya since the start of the week, torrential rain on the northern flank of the system started across Sicily on Sunday with heavy downpours and off since then across the island, also affecting Calabria and Puglia on the mainland.

Although the storm weakened somewhat mid-week, it has restrengthened over last 24 hours and will move northwest over Sicily today. The storm will bring further torrential rain across eastern Sicily and Calabria on the mainland through Friday – with a further 100-200mm (4-8 inches) falling here, perhaps locally up to 300mm (12 inches). These additional large rainfall totals following days of rainfall and ongoing flooding issues across southern Italy could bring additional potentially life-threatening flash-floods and landslides in these mountainous areas.

In addition to the flooding rains, as the storm strengthens and moves northwest it will bring strong gusty winds, with gusts up to 60mph possible along coasts and over higher ground. The storm should weaken and move away southeast from the area over the weekend.

Tags: Severe Weather  Climate

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