Italian Island Hit By ‘Apocalyptic’ Storm As 17 Inches Of Rain Fall In 90 Minutes


Half a year’s worth of rain fell in an hour and a half Monday night in the Italian island of Sardinia, flooding streets and killing at least 16 people.

Sardinia was pummeled by 17.3 inches of rain Monday by Cyclone Cleopatra, a drenching that Franco Gabrielli, head of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, called “an exceptional event.” According to Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, so far 2,500 people have been displaced by the storm and more than 10,000 have lost electricity. The Italian government has declared a state of emergency on the island and has allocated about $27 million in rescue and relief aid.

Marco Vargiu, councilor for tourism in Olbia, a Sardinian city, told CNN that the city had been among the hardest hit — in some places in the city, water levels reached 10 feet.

“The worst conditions are here in Olbia,” he said. “There are rivers of water in the town. In lots of houses the ground floors are full of water, one or two meters of water, and a lot of families have lost everything — their house, their car, their clothes, the furniture.”

Gianni Giovannelli, Olbia’s mayor, said the rain was so intense that it was like a “water bomb” and described the storm as “apocalyptic.”

Sardinia wasn’t the only region hit hard by flooding this week. Over the weekend, four people were killed when 0.79 inches of rain fell over 12 hours in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh. The rainfall tally may not seem like much, but it’s double the average November rainfall for the city. And since Riyadh has a desert climate, seemingly small amounts of rain can be cause for major concern.

“Typically, desert cities do not invest the same resources in drainage as do cities in wetter climates – much as warm-weather cities do not invest much in snowplows or road salt,” meteorologist Nick Wiltgen said. “As a result, rainfall amounts that might seem numerically insignificant in a place like Miami or New York can lead to major impacts in a desert metropolis.”

Climate change has been linked to extreme precipitation events — periods of short, intense rainfall that can cause major damage, like this year’s floods in Colorado did. As air heats up, it’s able to hold more and more water vapor — in general, every degree C of warming causes an atmospheric water vapor increase of 7 percent. Since warm air holds more water vapor, it takes longer for the water to condense and fall to the earth as rain — and when it does, there’s more of it available to fall.