In never rains, but it pours. Greece faces the end of a summer marked by massive wildfires with floods caused by storm Daniel, the first “medicane,” or Mediterranean hurricane, of the season. Meteorologists from all over Europe sounded the alarm on Monday afternoon: their mathematical models predicted a historic amount of rainfall: around 100 cm (over 36 inches) . Rainfall more typical of the Southeast Asian monsoons than of the cut-off lows of the Aegean. Between Monday and Tuesday, the Greek National Meteorological Service published three emergency bulletins to warn of torrential rains, thunderstorms, and hurricane-force winds.
Fierce rainstorms battered neighboring Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria on Tuesday, triggering flooding that caused at least several deaths, including two holidaymakers swept away by a torrent that raged through a campsite in northwestern Turkey. On Wednesday, rescue workers in all three countries recovered the bodies of five more people, increasing the death toll in the three neighboring countries to 12.
Daniel is the product of a strong drop in pressure at 12,000 meters above sea level that moved a mass of cold air from north to south across the Balkan Peninsula and reached Greece on Monday night. It will affect practically the entire country for three days, if the forecasts are correct, but its most devastating effects have already been felt in the regions of Thessaly, Magnesia, Pieria (Central Macedonia), as well as on the islands of the Sporades archipelago, Euboea and Skiatos, where it has been raining with increasing intensity since Monday night.
Precipitation on the Pelion peninsula exceeded 600 millimeters (23.62 inches). The Zagora meteorological station recorded 645 millimeters of rain between midnight and 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, according to the National Observatory of Athens. The meteorological service recalled that the average annual rainfall in Athens is around 400 millimeters (15.75 inches). That is to say, in one night it rained more than it usually rains in the capital for a year and a half. In the Volos region alone it is estimated that 75 million tons of water have fallen. And extreme events have also included tornadoes.
At least one person has died and another is missing. The deceased was a rancher from Ano Volos who was crushed to death by a wall that gave way under the pressure of the water, while he was feeding his cattle. The missing person is a 34-year-old man who was trying to cross an overflowing stream with his car in Volos. He was swept away by the water when he opened the door. According to the fire department spokesperson, the man was traveling with his son, who is now out of danger.
In both Volos and the island of Skiathos, the authorities have asked people not to leave their homes and have prohibited the use of vehicles. Dozens of cars have been swept into the sea by the floods. Commercial basements, homes, and official buildings have been flooded. The operations of several ferry lines that connect the Sporades and Euboea islands with mainland Greece and the bus lines between Larissa and Volos, two important cities in central Greece, have also been interrupted. The state agency AMNA has reported that almost all areas of Volos and Nea Ionia are experiencing power outages, both in residential areas and industrial areas. Likewise, a large part of Volos is without either landline or cellular telephone connection, due to the continuous lightning strikes that have hit the area. The roads are not suitable for travel in great swaths of the country. All appointments with public services in the regions of Magnesia and the Sporades have been canceled by executive order. The authorities fear that the effects of the storm will be revealed to be even worse when the residents of Volos can communicate normally again.
Although cut-off lows are a phenomenon typical of this time throughout the Mediterranean, the strength of this one is outside the norm. It is due to climate change, as is the intensity of the forest fires that have ravaged the country with increasing force every summer. Several of the most devastating fires last July were in Volos and Euboea, where it is now raining heavily. Torrential rains, experts say, will worsen the effects of the fire.
Intense rains worsen erosion and the loss of fertile land. The burned soil is less permeable, it does not have the same absorption capacity as before the fire. Unabsorbed rain washes away the fertile surface soil layer, which can take years or even centuries to regenerate. In the Mediterranean, this phenomenon is known as “savannization,” the degradation of the land that makes it difficult to recover native vegetation. Bacteria and fungi, essential for the ecosystem, are also washed away by the rain.
The Pelion peninsula is so high that there is a ski resort at its peak and, at the same time, its beaches are among the most appreciated for their crystal-clear waters. The rain from storm Daniel has turned the slopes of its steep mountains into a danger zone. In addition to overflowing torrents, there have been landslides and rock falls.
The danger is far from over. The forecasts of the meteorological services have announced that it will continue to rain heavily until Wednesday afternoon and, less intensely throughout Thursday. The storm will move towards Attica, the region that his home to the country’s capital, Athens. Authorities have announced that they are taking measures to prevent damage. In the capital the effects of Daniel have not yet been felt. Meanwhile, on social networks, an ironic comment went viral: “let’s see how the government manages to blame the rain on immigrants.”
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