Landslide warnings in Italy as more rain forecast for flood-hit regions

As rain returned to northern and central Italy on Friday, the civil protection agency issued further red alerts for parts of Emilia Romagna due to the risk of landslides and rising river levels.

Landslide warnings in Italy as more rain forecast for flood-hit regions
A man covered in mud walks across a muddy street in Faenza, Emilia Romagna, after flooding left 14 dead and thousands displaced. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

After days of heavy rain resulted in deadly flooding in northern Italy, the short-term forecasts showed few signs of improvement.

More rain was forecast for the northeastern Emilia-Romagna region in the coming days, after this week’s floods claimed 14 lives and caused widespread devastation.

READ ALSO: Italy’s flood death toll rises to 14 as government urged to act on climate

Parts of the northeastern region remain on the highest-level ‘red’ alert for extreme weather events on Saturday, Italy’s civil protection agency confirmed.

Other parts of the region, along with Piedmont, Calabria, and Sicily, were placed on a medium-level amber alert.

Parts of the Marche region, south of Emilia Romagna, were under a lower-level yellow alert after it also suffered flooding in some areas this week.

The civil protection agency said the risk of landslides was considered high in Emilia Romagna, where there are also concerns that the levels of already swollen river levels will rise further.

There have already been 290 landslides reported in the region this week, officials in the Emilia Romagna region said on Friday.

The number of floods had reached 58, in 43 municipalities. 544 roads remained totally closed.

Landslides were also possible in parts of the Piedmont region, the agency said, where two provinces were under a lower-level ‘yellow’ alert.


No weather warnings were issued elsewhere in the country, though it was set to be another wet and windy weekend with rain forecast everywhere from Turin and Milan in the north to Rome in the centre and across the southern regions of Puglia and Basilicata.

Forecasters also said sirocco winds from northern Africa would carry sand from the Sahara across much of Italy in the coming days, which combined with the rain was likely to leave everything coated in yellow-brown dust.

Long-range forecasts predicted unusually rainy and unsettled weather was likely to continue across Italy until at least the end of May.

Rain would then be followed by intense heat at the start of summer due to anticyclones moving in from Africa, forecasters said.

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Floods in Italy: Scientists investigate cause of ‘one-in-200-year’ disaster

After floods devastated much of the northeastern Emilia Romagna region this month, researchers said on Wednesday that climate change wasn't the only factor behind the "rare" event.

Floods in Italy: Scientists investigate cause of 'one-in-200-year' disaster

After three cyclones hit the northern Italian region in mid-May, a team of researchers used computer simulations and past observations to investigate whether human-caused climate change was directly responsible – but found things were more complex than that.

IN VIDEOS: How floods devastated Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region

Seventeen people died and tens of thousands were forced to leave their homes after three exceptionally heavy downpours hit the Emilia Romagna region within three weeks, causing landslides and floods that destroyed farmland, towns and businesses.

The World Weather Attribution (WWA) group of climate scientists said May had seen “the wettest event of this type” for two centuries.

Their study estimated there was a 1-in-200 chance that three cyclones would strike within a three-week period, and the team cautioned that this exceptional event meant more time for research was needed.

“This is not the end of the story,″ said study co-author Davide Faranda, a researcher in climate physics at the Pierre-Simon Laplace Institute in France, during a panel to present the findings.

“This event is too rare,″ he said 

Car underwater in Emilia Romagna

Entire neighbourhoods in Cesena, Emilia Romagna were left submerged by flooding on May 17th, 2023. Photo by Alessandro SERRANO / AFP

The group – whose goal is to demonstrate reliable links between global warming and certain weather phenomena – said its models suggest such events, in this region at this time of year, are not becoming more frequent or intense.

“It is relatively unusual for an attribution study to find that extreme rainfall was not made more likely by greenhouse gas emissions,” the WWA said in a press statement.

Warmer atmospheres can hold more moisture and therefore often result in more frequent and intense rainfall.

But the group said this was offset by a decrease in the number of low-pressure systems in the central Mediterranean, linked to climate change, which mean less heavy rain.

Drought and urbanisation

It underlined that other climate change-related events are increasing across Italy, with an overall trend towards drought but also changes in seasons leading to potentially less frequent but more intense downpours.

The impact of the Emilia Romagna floods was exacerbated by a two-year drought in northern Italy which left the land dry and hard and unable to absorb the water.

Decades of urbanisation had also increased the flood risk, the study said.

Flooded bungalows in Cesena on May 17, 2023 after heavy rains caused major flooding in central-northern Italy. (Photo by Alessandro SERRANO / AFP)

“Our statistical findings acknowledge the uniqueness of such an event which was driven by an unprecedented sequence of three low-pressure systems in the central Mediterranean,” said Faranda.

He emphasised that it was not that climate change had no role, but the relationship went beyond the organisation’s statistical analyses.

“Although spring heavy rainfall episodes are not increasing in Emilia Romagna, extreme rainfall is increasing in other parts of Italy,” he said.

Almost 94 percent of Italian municipalities are at risk of landslides, floods and coastal erosion, according the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA).

Emilia Romagna is particularly at risk, with a history of flooding and landslides, although nothing even comparable to this month’s disaster has occurred since 1939, said the study, conducted by 13 researchers from Europe and the US.