How is it possible that just three hours of heavy rain can flood a city?
Other cities have blizzards, earthquakes, hurricanes, monsoons, tornados, tsunamis! And they trudge through, brave and battle-weary. Rome has a particularly heavy downpour and the city grinds to a halt. I left for work extra early yesterday morning, because after 7 years in this city, I know well that a half-way decent rainstorm (and particularly the first of the season) can cause major traffic delays. You see, no one wants to get wet, so many of the thousands and thousands of people who usually take a scooter to work or use public transportation, decide to take their cars instead.
I don't actually mind being out in the rain, not when I'm prepared for it. I put on my trusty red Wellies and matching raincoat and grab a non-street-bought umbrella and make the best of it. It was a decidedly wet day but nothing out of the ordinary. In fact I've seen much, much worse in this city in years past, so I was stunned to learn that parts of the city were flooded. I heard stories of people stuck in traffic for hours with water up to their car windows. Knowing the inclination for exaggeration so common in the Bel Paese, I had a hard time believing it until I saw the photos. Areas in certain parts of the city were under at least 4 feet of water, with schools, churches and even the Metro A shut down. Flooding was not confined to the suburbs, even the Roman Forum was submerged. (See photos of the Forum flooded here.)
Before the Tiber's enbankments were built back in the late 19th century, the swollen river would regularly burst its banks and flood the city, sometimes up to 6 or 7 feet. Plaques on several churches in the flat Campus Martius area of Rome testify to these events, proudly indicating how high the water level reached.
I'll never forget December of 2008 when the the river reached an unusually high level and everyone was afraid it would spill over and flood Trastevere. Nothing happened of course.
But yesterday's issue had nothing to do with the Tiber. A substatial but in no way excessive amount of water was dumped on the city, but for some reason, it seemed to have no where to go and the city was swept up in chaos. Mayor Alemanno even declared a state of calamity! Apparantly 74 milimeters (almost 3 inches) fell in just an hour and a half. Is that a lot? Perhaps I blithely missed all the fuss (maybe while I was on the bus, unable to see out the foggy windows). Still, I shudder to imagine what would happen if a true meteorological disaster befell this city.
Today's weather? Couldn't have been more gorgeous with sunny skies and temperatures in the sixties and no trace of yesterday's drama. It amazes me how fast the weather can change in this town, like the time in 2010 when a veritable blizzard turned the city white on a February morning. By two in the afternoon the sun was shining and the snow had all melted away, as if it had never been. Ah, Roma, you always keep us guessing.