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Medicane Maria
Violent medicane (Mediterranean scale)
Maria mediterranean peak intensity 2020 square.png
Medicane Maria near its record peak intensity over the Tyrrhenian sea.
FormedSeptember 3, 2020
DissipatedSeptember 18, 2020
Duration2 weeks and 1 day
Highest winds1-minute sustained:
165 km/h (105 mph)
Gusts: 220 km/h (140 mph)
Lowest pressure958 hPa (mbar); 28.29 inHg
(Record low in the Mediterranean sea)
Fatalities43 confirmed, 12 presumed
Damage$855 million (2020 USD)
Areas affectedAlgeria, Tunisia, Campania, Calabria, Basilicata, Apulia, Dalmatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro
Part of the 2020-21 Mediterranean cyclone season


This article is about the Mediterranean cyclone of 2020. For other storms of the same name, see List of storms named Maria.

Medicane Maria, also known as Cyclone Maria, was one of the most intense and longest-lived storms in the Mediterranean on record. Forming in early September from a broad trough of low pressure, the low slowly organized while moving east, later strengthening into only the third recorded violent medicane (winds of at least 90 mph (145 km/h) per the Mediterranean scale) on record, peaking as a Category 2-equivalent cyclone on the Saffir-Simpson scale. After making its first landfall in southern Italy, the storm curved to the north, making landfall in Croatia before dissipating over the Balkans.

Impacts from the storm were severe, with southern Italy receiving the worst of the storm due to the system's slow motion and strength, with areas such as Sapri and Scalea suffering the worst damage, while torrential rainfall caused flooding throughout southern Italy, Croatia and Montenegro. 43 deaths were recorded in association with the storm, mainly thanks to extended heavy rainfall and high storm surge, while an additional 12 are presumed dead. Damage throughout the Mediterranean was estimated to be at around $855 million (2020 USD).

Meteorological history

Map plotting the track and the intensity of the storm, according to the Mediterranean scale

Alternate map plotting the track and the intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale

A non-tropical area of low pressure formed along a dying cold front just off the southern coast of Spain on August 31. Barely moving throughout the next day, the system crossed into the far south-western Mediterranean late on September 1. Amid unusually warm sea surface temperatures in addition to increased atmospheric instability, the storm quickly began subtropical cyclogenesis, completing the process early on September 3. At the time of transition, the storm was estimated to be a tad north off the coast of north Africa, near the Morocco-Algeria border.

Initially, the nascent subtropical depression was quite weak, only producing winds of about 25 mph (40 km/h) initially. Despite remaining quite weak throughout the next few days as it moved east across the southern Mediterranean, the storm gradually began to transition into a fully tropical cyclone, completing the process late on September 4. Amid lower shear and higher oceanic heat content, the storm was finally able to match the threshold needed to be classified as a tropical storm early on September 6, being assigned the name Maria.

Maria continued to slowly but steadily strengthen throughout the next few days amid favorable conditions, attaining medicane intensity while south of Sardinia. Despite continued forecasts of the intensity leveling off, Maria continued its slow intensification trend as it moved into the Tyrrhenian sea, strengthening into a major medicane in between Sicily and Sardinia, becoming the first major medicane since 2017. Maria continued to slowly increase in strength as its intensity started to approach record numbers, intensifying into a violent medicane at 00:00 UTC on September 9, becoming the first of its kind since the new millenia started, and only the third of its category on record after Two in 1967 and Anton in 1995. The storm also became only the second to attain Category 2 status on the Saffir-Simpson scale since records began in the Mediterranean, only the aforementioned Anton had done so beforehand.

Maria continued to intensify, and later that day, it broke the record set by the aforementioned Anton to become the most intense storm ever recorded in the Mediterranean sea as it peaked with winds of 105 mph (165 km/h) and a record-breaking minimum central pressure of 958 mbar (28.3 inHg) while located off the coast of southern Italy, although several estimates put the winds even higher, some even putting it as a major hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Moving slowly towards the Italian coast, the storm turned to the east-southeast, weakening slowly due to upwelling and a slight uptick in shear. Still, the storm remained formidable as it moved closer and closer in throughout the next day and a half, making landfall as a strong medicane with winds of 75 mph (120 km/h) in the Calabria region of Italy on September 13.

Following landfall, the storm quickly weakened as it crossed Italy, only moving into the Ionian sea as a tropical depression, with the low-level circulation now partially exposed thanks to the terrain. Despite its disorganization, Maria was able to bounce back into a tropical storm amid favorable conditions, with forecasts raising the possibility of the storm re-intensifying into a medicane before another landfall in the Apulia region of Italy as well as a potential Balkan landfall later on. The storm quickly rebounded, attaining a second stint as a medicane early on September 16, with it briefly restrengthening into a secondary peak as a major medicane at midnight on September 17 just before a direct hit near Santa Cesarea Terme in Apulia.

The storm entered unfavorable conditions as it scraped by Apulia, weakening into a medicane just six hours after its secondary peak intensity as it quickly began to exhibit hybrid characteristics. Maria swiftly weakened into a tropical storm soon after, transitioning into a subtropical storm right after. Just hours later, the system made landfall near Dubrovnik, Croatia as a rapidly weakening subtropical storm late on September 17, degrading to a subtropical depression inland early the next day, merging with a cold front soon after.

Preparations and impact

North Africa

As Maria moved along the southwestern Mediterranean near the coast of north Africa, several African countries received moderate rainfall from the then-small depression, with rainfall peaking at 2.12 inches (53.8 mm) in the capital of Algeria. Overall damage was minimal.

Italy

Following Maria's upgrade into an violent medicane, medicane watches were issued along central and southern Italy, proceeding to medicane warnings twelve hours later in the south. As the storm moved closer to the coast, the medicane warnings in central Italy were downgraded to tropical storm warnings as the storm was expected to pass through without as much significant damage. In addition, red alerts were issued throughout Italy and a voluntary evacuation was issued for the Basilicata and Calabria provinces, while mandatory evacuations were issued for Campania and Apulia provinces. In addition, the Italian government declared a state of emergency for all southern provinces of Italy, with the sole exclusion of Sicily.

Flooding in Apulia during its secondary peak intensity.

Around fifteen hours before landfall, storm surge began being observed off the Campanian coast. As it crawled closer to the coast, storm surge began to increase, peaking at around 12 ft (3.6 m) at landfall, causing severe damage along the Italian coastline. Torrential rainfall ensued throughout the next few days as it drifted inland as well as while it intensified over the northwestern Ionian sea, with rainfall peaking at 21.1 in (535.9 mm) in Salento, Italy. In addition, a peak wind gust was recorded in a close-by area a few hours earlier, with a gust of 141 mph (226 km/h) recorded. During the torrential rainfall, the Hannibal Bridge in Campania collapsed after a mudslide brought the bridge down, killing three people that were attempting to evacuate using the bridge. Multiple big cities, including Salerno, Bari and Potenza received also sustained significant damage after Maria passed through, with over a dozen deaths recorded in those cities alone. Maria also caused significant agricultural damage in the region, with an estimated 75% of the area's crops being washed away due to the storm. Italy sustained most of the damage from the storm's lifetime, with an estimated $825 million (€650 million) in damage, as well as all presumed deaths and 39 confirmed deaths occurring in the country.

Balkans

As the storm approached closer to the Balkans, a tropical storm watch was issued for the coasts of Croatia and Montenegro, as well as for the southern part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. These were later upgraded to tropical storm warnings following the storm's advance into the Adriatic sea. Additionally, a red alert was issued for the province of Dalmatia in Croatia.

Although the storm caused moderate damage in the area, overall damage was less than expected. However, Maria still caused a recorded storm surge of about 4.1 ft (1.25 m) in southern Croatia just before moving over land. Rainfall in the region was moderate but notable, with rainfall peaking at 5.2 in (132.1 mm) in the extreme southern portion of Herzegovina, just after the storm had weakened into a subtropical depression. Multiple deaths were recorded in the region, with all of them due to drowning. Overall, the storm caused an estimated $30 million (€24.8 million) in damage in the Balkans, with the majority of it concentrated in Croatia, while four deaths were recorded in the region, three in Croatia and one in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Aftermath, records and retirement

Following the storm, millions of dollars in relief efforts were sent to southern Italy, while power was not fully restored in Campania for a full 26 days following the storm's dissipation. Schools remained closed for an additional month due to the storm, although they would again be closed two months after the storm due to the COVID-19 pandemic in November.

Maria was the second-strongest medicane by wind speed and most intense medicane in recorded history, peaking with winds of 105 mph (165 km/h) and a pressure of 958 hPa (mbar), becoming only the second medicane on record to hit Category 2 status on the Saffir-Simpson scale, after Anton in 1995. However, some estimates for the storm put the storm's intensity even higher, with some hinting the storm could've been the equivalent of a major hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale at peak intensity.

On July 6, 2021, at the 24th session of the RA XIV hurricane committee, the World Meteorological Organization retired the name Maria from its rotating name lists, due to the heavy damage and loss of life it caused along its track, particularly in southern Italy, and its name will never again be used for another Mediterranean cyclone. It will be replaced with Magda.

See also

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