Freak Winter Weather Is Battering Italy's Cities

Venice’s canals have hit bad dry spells, while Rome, Milan and Naples are shrouded in smog.

The January high tides that often flood St. Mark’s Square in Venice are usually considered a major headache. This year, however, they’ve been greeted as a relief.

Thanks to freak weather across Italy, a lack of rain combined with low tides has led canal water levels to drop by up to 70 centimeters (2.3 feet). In a city whose main thoroughfares are all liquid, this change mattered. Emergency services struggled to make it through some shallower canals, while the unusually low water revealed a city-wide layer of uncleared sludge, rubbish and decaying masonry caused by years of neglected maintenance.

It’s easy to understand why Venice let things get this way. For a long while, its main concern has been how to stop itself sinking, rather than drying up. And sure enough, this week, cleansing tides arrived with a vengeance. A water rise of 114 centimeters (3.7 feet) forced the use of pontoons for pedestrians in St. Mark’s Square, clearing away much of the filth and slurry caused by the preceding water slump.

But Venice’s dry canals are only the most dramatic of many problems caused by Italy’s unusual weather—problems that have hit the country’s cities particularly hard. Yesterday, the media in Milan announced that thanks to an almost rainless winter, its central canals would run dry this summer. read more