If the terminology sounds to you like a clever mixture of “Mediterranean” and “hurricane,” then you can probably piece together where they form and what they do. However, there are notable differences (and similarities) between a hurricane and a medicane — not just in where they develop, but how they behave.
Medicanes vs. hurricanes
“Medicanes are very much like hurricanes,” says Dr. Richard Seager of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. He told CNN that because medicanes are “geographically confined over the Mediterranean Sea and are surrounded by land” they are typically smaller than a hurricane and often dissipate quicker.
Another important difference is the time of the year when they develop. As the Atlantic hurricane season winds down from its peak months, we look to the Mediterranean basin for potential formation. Medicane formation usually occurs from September to December, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy.
Power was taken out from winds that reached 100 kph (62 mph) just before landfall, as seen within this wind map from 2020.
Similar to a hurricane, the clouds of a medicane swirl around a central eye-like structure, which is where the strongest part of the storm is located.
Devastating impacts from a medicane, such as flooding and mudslides, can stretch hundreds of kilometers from the center of the storm as the outer rain bands approach land.
Medicanes are rare
Medicanes are not a regular occurrence.
According to Seager, they are quite rare, with “typically one or so forming per year in the western Mediterranean basin.”
Because of this, says Seager, it’s hard to know if there are any climate-related impacts on frequency or intensity. Warmer sea surface temperatures in the Mediterranean can allow the storms to take on more tropical appearances and characteristics, increasing the wind speeds and making the storms more intense.
However, “some modeling studies have shown that climate change might make Medicanes less common but more intense when they do form, which is similar to model projections of Atlantic hurricanes.”