A tornado swept across Italy's historic island city of Venice at around 11 a.m. local time yesterday (June 12), leaving a trail of twisted debris and a shaken populace in its wake.
Videos and images posted on YouTube and splashed across the websites of local media outlets showed a large and menacing twister looming above picturesque tiled roofs and the historic seascapes for which the city is famed.
The tornado, or "tromba d'aria" (trumpet of the air) in Italian, ripped roofs from houses, uprooted trees, largely destroyed at least one park, and left dozens of boats piled in a jumble as though lifted by an invisible hand, according to local media reports.
So far, no deaths have been reported, but Venetian media are saying that some people were injured, hit by blunt objects the strong winds sent flying. [The Tornado Damage Scale in Images]
From afar, and without all the data in hand, it's not clear if the twister was a waterspout or a tornado spawned by a supercell thunderstorm, said Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center. "There is a fundamental difference between a waterspout and a tornado," he told OurAmazingPlanet. "A tornado associated with a supercell has more potential for damage."
Tornadoes near the northern Italian coastal city are rare, but they have wreaked havoc in Venice in the past. On Sept. 11, 1970, one or more tornadoes ripped through the region, killing as many as 50 people. In Venice, the twister lifted a boat out of the water and slammed it back down again, killing at least 21 people, according to local media reports.
Although the Mediterranean coast may not be famed for its tornadoes, Carbin said twisters can spin up just about anywhere. "There are hotspots, and of course in North America, we have the largest hotspots," Carbin said, "but tornadoes have been reported in England, France, Germany, Asia, Indonesia."
A combination of warm air, moisture, a thunderstorm and layers of different winds in the atmosphere sets the stage for a twister. "Anywhere you can put those ingredients together, you can get a tornado," Carbin said.
Italy has been no stranger to disaster of late. Two earthquakes have hit northern Italy in recent weeks; the first, a magnitude 6.0, hit on May 20, sending piles of debris raining down onto the streets, destroying historic buildings and killing seven people.
Just nine days later, on May 29, a magnitude-5.5 earthquake rattled the region, killing 17 people. The quake was initially reported as a magnitude 5.8, but the U.S. Geological Survey later downgraded the magnitude.
In Venice, people are still sorting through the crumpled buildings, smashed boats and shredded trees the tornado left behind. Municipal officials who toured scenes of destruction have estimated that the storm caused at least 3 million euros ($3.75 million) in damage.
Reach Andrea Mustain at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AndreaMustain. Follow OurAmazingPlanet for the latest in Earth science and exploration news on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook & Google+.