Weather turns rough in the Mediterranean

  • Weather turns rough in the Mediterranean
    24.02.2011 15:19


    The evacuation of foreign nationals escaping the dire events in Libya has been set back by strong winds and very rough seas across the Gulf of Sidra, the southwards bulge of the Mediterranean Sea along the Libyan coast.

    An energetic low pressure system centred east of Malta on Thursday was generating strong to gale force west to north-westerly winds with seas of four to six metres across the Gulf, peaking at a tumultuous 10 metres, preventing the sailing of a chartered ferry.

    The poor weather has also disrupted flights out of the country. The fierce winds have kicked up sandstorms, and there has been heavy rain with occasional thunderstorms.

    The bad weather has pushed east, with southern Italy and Greece also catching some heavy rain, and it is going to be rather cold across much of the Mediterranean.

    This might sound abnormal for a region noted for its warm beaches and placid seas but winter can have some very disturbed spells. This winter they have perhaps been more frequent than usual, and it was stormy quite early in the season.

    Between the 10th and 14th of December 2010 a vigorous depression hit the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East and northern Middle East. It brought torrential rain, high winds, very rough seas, heavy rain, and plummeting temperatures, with substantial snow in Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Syria.

    The cause is a more southerly track during winter of Atlantic low pressure systems which may re-invigorate as they move across the Mediterranean. Lows are steered by the jet stream, and this is more likely to meander southwards during the winter, “following the sun” as it were.

    The situation has been exacerbated this winter by pressure often being abnormally high in high latitudes, one of the reasons why December was so cold across Europe. This forced low pressure systems and their rain-bearing fronts either up into the Arctic or south-eastwards across the Mediterranean. It also helps to explain why December was drier than normal across Europe, despite the impression given by the deep snow.

    Winds across Libya and the central Mediterranean will die down through Friday and the weekend with seas subsiding but there will further bouts of heavy rain moving eastwards. Moreover, there is a risk that on Monday and Tuesday the strong winds and rough seas will return, at least to the western and central basins.

    By: Stephen Davenport