The January 1995 Mediterranean 'Hurricane'

(Last updated May 12, 2002)

People don't normally use 'The Mediterranean Sea' and 'hurricane' in the same breath. However, on rare occasions the Mediterranean has seen cyclones that resemble tropical storms or hurricanes. Such system occurred in September 1947, September 1969, January 1982, September 1983, and January 1995. Here are some images showing the life cycle of the January 1995 cyclone, which is probably the most outstanding example of these storms.

[Small MedPolar 1]  This multispectral NOAA polar orbiter image shows the early stage of the storm near 1700 UTC 13 January. At this time, the system was a wave along the front marked by the line of clouds extending from the coasts of Libya and Tunisia northeast to Greece and Albania. Notice the cold air clouds over the Mediterranean northwest of the front, and over Italy and the Adriatic Sea. (89K JPG)

[Small MedPolar 2]  This multispectral NOAA polar orbiter image shows the storm near 1200 UTC 14 January. There is now a well-defined circulation center between Sicily and Greece with denser clouds northwest of the center. The German weather ship Meteor passed through that part of the storm and reported sustained winds of 84 mph at 1400 UTC, with a minimum pressure of 29.25 in an hour earlier (along with 83 mph winds). The Meteor had been launching rawinsonde balloons, but it was unable to launch one during the closest approach due to strong winds. (95K JPG)

[Small MedPolar 3]  This multispectral NOAA polar orbiter image shows the storm near 0500 UTC 15 January. The storm is now just off the west coast of Greece. Notice the colder (lighter shade of blue) clouds wrapping around the warm (dark blue) region. This suggests showers and thunderstorms are now organizing around the center, which in the tropics would indicate the formation and strengthening of a tropical cyclone. Also notice that the cyclone is now separated from the cold front that spawned it. (75K JPG)

[Small MedComp 1]  This METEOSAT picture pair shows the the surprise of 1330 UTC January 15. Even though the storm is between Sicily and Greece in the middle of January, it has developed all the satellite appearances of a hurricane! The visible image on the right shows a well-defined eye, while the IR image on the left shows the eye surrounded by shower and thunderstorms instead of just low clouds. The features giving this storm a non-tropical appearance are the cold air clouds to the south, and the snow over the mountains of southern Europe. (122K GIF)

[Small MedComp 2]  This METEOSAT picture pair on 16 January (IR at 0930 UTC and visible at 1330 UTC) shows the storm near its probable peak intensity. The eye appears to be embedded in a well-defined central dense overcast, with some outer bands of showers and thunderstorms. There is even evidence of an upper level anticyclone, which is normally found over tropical hurricanes. Notice there are fewer cold air clouds south of the storm than 24 hours previously. (81K GIF)

Other images show the eye persisted for more than 30 hours before the cyclone started weakening later on 16 January.

[Small MedPolar 4]   This multispectral NOAA polar orbiter image shows the weakening storm making landfall in Libya near1800 UTC 17 January. Most of the showers and thunderstorms have dissipated, leaving skeletal-looking bands of low- to mid-level clouds. Notice how small and insignificant the system looks compared to the large winter storm moving across the British Isles. The cyclone continued inland and dissipated the next day. (85K JPG)

Was this storm really a hurricane? That's still being debated. The satellite images strongly resemble those of Atlantic hurricanes that form from non-tropical weather systems. However, the air and water temperatures were much colder than those seen in tropical hurricanes. Surface air temperatures were in the 45o-50o F range, while water temperatures were near 61o F. Upper air temperatures were also much colder than in tropical hurricanes. Some scientists think this storm more resembles a polar low than a hurricane. Since no data is available from the storm's core after the eye formed, the issue probably will never be adequately resolved.

The NOAA polar orbiter imagery is from the German Remote Sensing Data Center. The picture pairs were constructed from METEOSAT imagery by Roger Edwards of the Storm Prediction Center. The METEOSAT imagery was collected in near-real time from the University of Nottingham. Juergen Gerpott of the Deutscher Wetterdienst kindly provided the data from the Meteor.

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