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Mediterranean Storm: 'Tempest in a Tea Pot'

By By Alex Sosnowski, expert senior meteorologist
November 18, 2011, 7:22:06 AM EST

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A hybrid storm currently lashing the French Riviera with gusty winds, rough seas and rain is rare, but not unheard of for the Mediterranean Sea.

This particular storm seems to have been born out of a slow-moving, upper-level storm pestering the area from Spain and France to Italy since the middle of last week.

The parent storm funneled torrential rain into Genoa, Italy, last week, causing approximately half a dozen deaths and considerable destruction from flash flooding.

The storm near the French Rivera is forecast to break down over the next couple of days. However, heavy rain can lead to flash flooding, mudslides and landslides in the region. Locally gusty winds can reach near 50 mph along the coast. Seas may remain dangerous for bathers into the end of the week.

According to World Weather Expert Jim Andrews, "Although more like a polar storm, rather than a tropical storm, these 'tempests in a tea pot' seem to crop up, on average once every year."

The overall surface area of the Mediterranean is very small when compared to the Atlantic. Although relatively similar in size to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, it is longer and skinnier, making it tougher for tropical storm formation.

"The surface temperature of the Mediterranean Sea is much lower, on average, when compared to the Caribbean and the Gulf. It does approach minimal operating temperature for tropical storms during the late summer," Andrews said.

The surface of the Mediterranean Sea reaches about 80 degrees Fahrenheit during late August in some locations.

Interestingly, it seems the storms are more likely to form as Europe cools down in the fall and winter, when the water is warmest relative to the land. Hence, arguing against the suggestion of their tropical or even subtropical nature.

Perhaps Mediterranean storms of this caliber need a classification of their own.

One has to wonder how many storms of similar nature have foiled invasions on the shores of the Mediterranean over the centuries.

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