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Venice in Peril

Venice in Peril

Posted on 13 Apr 2023

“Venice is eternity itself.” – Joseph Brodsky.

One of the most culturally rich, romantic and iconic of the world’s cities can be found nestled in an Italian lagoon. Venice has been a source of inspiration for local residents, travelers and artists for centuries, with unique architecture that is instantly recognisable.

The location of the city has restricted its growth, but also preserved its unique nature and beauty. The relative isolation of the city politically, economically and culturally created a unique environment that has inspired artists for centuries. 

Today, the city has not rested on its cultural laurels, with the Venice Biennale (La Biennale d'Arte di Venezia), being one of the largest and most important contemporary visual art exhibitions in the world. Famous Venetian residents range from Antonio Vivaldi, Canaletto and Casanova to Giuseppe Sinopoli and Emma Thompson. It was reported that Johnny Depp bought the Palazzo Donà - a beautiful 700 square meter house on the Canal Grande, though he is said to have denied this rumor. 

Canals of Venice

The stone buildings of Venice appear to magically ‘float’ on the water, with a multitude of canals and narrow alleyways acting as the arteries of this fascinating city. A true testament to human ingenuity and fortitude. 

Venice began in the 5th Century when refugees from the collapsing western Roman empire fled the onslaught of barbarian hordes by sailing away from mainland Italy. They found the area that was already inhabited by fishermen, who lived in simple houses built on the lagoon’s many islands. What were to become the elegant Venetian canals were initially the naturally occurring inlets and waterways between the islands on the Lagoon of Venice (Laguna Venezia). 

Over time, the islands had buildings added by the settlers using densely spaced tree trunks sunk into the layers of sediment and clay as foundations. As the buildings became larger and more elaborate, larger trees were brought in from countries such as Slovenia, with many of these original pilings still in use today. The settlers expanded the city of Venice by filling in and draining part of the lagoon to create more canals and islands. The canals were made stable by adding wooden boards to the sides to prevent the soil collapsing and blocking the waterways. 

Sinking Venice

Venice has always faced challenges, however the very nature of the city’s location and environment has created contrasting short and long term challenges, both natural and human made.

Venice ‘floats’ on saltwater that originates in the Mediterranean and flows into the Adriatic, meaning that securing a reliable source of fresh drinking water has always been a troublesome process. In the 1960s, a scheme was started to sink deep wells into the Venetian marshland in order to drain water from the layer of Caranto clay that supports many of the city's foundations. This drilling created an imbalance in the foundations of the city, causing a number of buildings to sink rapidly. The project was canceled as soon as this was realized, but highlighted the delicacy of the city's foundations.

Today, Venice is contending with both the natural sinking that occurs due to the weight of the buildings, as well the impact of global climate change creating a rise in sea levels.

In addition, a series of short-term high water periods flooded the Venetian walkways. These were caused by unstable weather conditions in the Adriatic, with November 2019 seeing Venice experience its worst flooding in 50 years.

Disappearing Canals

In addition to excess water caused by extreme weather conditions, and rising sea levels, Venice is also facing challenges from a lack of water.

The 2023 winter heatwave brought record low levels of rain and a lack of snow in Europe. This pushed rivers, canals and lakes across the continent to alarmingly low levels. For example, France is experiencing the driest weather in more than 60 years, and may soon bring in water restrictions. The lack of snow this winter could impact water reserves in the spring and summer, as there is less snowmelt to sustain rivers. Venice is experiencing dried up canals due to this lack of rainfall, with many of the more shallow canals not having enough water to even keep a gondola afloat.

Ambitious Plans

Project MoSE (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico) has proved to be a controversial solution to the threat of fluctuating water levels. The plan consisted of building almost 80 moveable floodgates that could help control the flow of water into the Venetian Lagoon. These barriers were placed throughout the Lagoon's three main inlets. The scheme has had countless setbacks. Despite being tested for the first time in July 2020, the project is not expected to be completed for another two years.

The Importance of Weather Forecasting

Being forewarned of possible higher or lower precipitation levels, both locally and regionally can give valuable help to city planners both in Venice, and other urban areas susceptible to flooding. Residents and business owners can be warned to implement their flood planning, and water levels can be monitored with the prospect of raising or lowering flood defenses. 

Forecast Weather Data:

In regions such as Venice, where flooding is a major issue, having detailed, minute-accurate, nuanced forecasts can help city managers implement their defense strategy with certainty, and cause local inhabitants minimal inconvenience.  The OpenWeather One Call API 3.0 is an easy-to-use, accurate and versatile product, perfect for a wide variety of uses.

Weather Alerts:

Receiving a push notification of an impending weather event can give city authorities vital time for planning, and to warn residents to prepare and mitigate any risks.  The OpenWeather Global Weather Alerts provide a push alert of events raised by national weather organizations, as well as updates and cancellations.

Historic Weather Data: 

Historical weather information can help city planners understand their regional weather patterns in more detail, and can be used in conjunction with forecast data for both short and long city defense planning, budgeting, and safety management. 

OpenWeather provides the Historical Weather collection that offers over 43 years of historical data, with rich, multi-parameter data available for any location. This includes historical actuals and historical forecasts (previous forecasts). Data can be requested via APIs, via Bulk Download or via other customized solutions. This can give a key insight into changing weather patterns, and be correlated with local incidents, helping plan for the future using the results of the Current and Forecast collection of weather products. 

About OpenWeather:

OpenWeather provides weather data for any location on the globe using a proprietary hyperlocal forecasting model with a resolution from 500 m to 2 km, globally. More than 5,000,000 customers from logistics, agriculture, insurance, energy, retail, and many other sectors, are working with the company's weather products. 

OpenWeather cooperates with global meteorological agencies such as MetOffice and NOAA, and enhances its model with data from radars, weather stations and satellites. The company provides great availability of service at 99.9% for enterprise-level products. 

The products can be easily integrated into complex IT systems and are ideal for ML analytic systems. OpenWeather is a member of Royal Meteorological Society and an Achilles-certified supplier. OpenWeather ethical initiatives include support of educators and students, not-for-profit subscriptions for the general public to increase weather awareness, and recent Ukrainian donation programme, and donations to COVID researchers.

For more information on how to gain access to our OpenWeather products, please email us.

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