Venice’s famous canals ran dry this weekend for the second time in three years after a low tide and lack of rain brought water levels in the historic lagoon down to rarely-seen depths.
Gondolas were stranded in muddy, dried-up canal beds after the waters fell to nearly 19 inches below sea level on Saturday, with forecasters expecting the tide to drop even lower early this week.
The phenomenon is thought to be linked to the February full moon – also known as the ‘snow moon’ – because full moons cause the biggest fluctuations in the tides of the Venetian lagoon.
It is also caused by a high-pressure weather system across Italy, which is less prone to forming clouds and therefore less likely to bring rain to fill up the canals.
Stranded: These Venetian gondolas had nowhere to go on Sunday after the water in the famous canals virtually dried up, leaving a muddy canal-bed, in a phenomenon caused by the full moon and a lack of rain in Italy
Beached: The water transport that Venice relies on was left useless after water levels in the canals receded to unusually low levels, with forecasters expecting the tide to plumb even lower depths on Monday
Dried up: The water had vanished entirely in this section of the Venetian canals, leaving a gondola covered in blue tarpaulin with no means of escape from its muddy canal-bed
Forecasters in Venice say the water levels could drop to 20 inches below sea level on Monday before the tides return to less extreme levels later in the week.
While some of the water transport that Venice relies on was rendered useless, locals did get to see algae and molluscs living on the walls of buildings that are usually partly underwater.
In January 2018, the water levels fell even further to a low point 26 inches below sea level – while the all-time record was set in February 2008 when they dropped to minus 33 inches, according to Italian media.
Venice authorities say that ‘on the days of new moon and full moon, the effects of sun and moon result in the highest tidal fluctuations’ which can be predicted many years into the future.
This is because the alignment of sun and moon that are necessary to bring about a full moon in the sky mean that both are exerting a powerful pull on the Earth’s seas and oceans, causing especially high and low tides.
The February full moon is sometimes known as the ‘snow moon’ because much of the Northern Hemisphere typically sees its heaviest snowfall in that month.
Low levels: Some water was left in these canals, but the embankments had dried up after the water in the historic lagoon reached dramatically low levels this weekend
Exposed: The ends of these two gondolas were entirely above water after the combination of a full moon and low pressure over Italy brought low water levels with it
Debris: The dried-up canals exposed detritus that was lying on the canal-beds as well as algae and molluscs on the walls of buildings
Left behind: These gondolas were left stuck in the latest dramatic phenomenon to hit the Venetian canals after huge flooding in 2019 and sudden clear waters brought about by the coronavirus lockdown in early 2020
Venetians have also lived through disastrous flooding in recent years, which submerged St Mark’s Square in up to six feet of water in November 2019, the highest level since 1966.
Basements and ground floors in much of Venice are frequently flooded when the ‘acqua alta’ (high water) phenomenon occurs, forcing residents and visitors to don their rubber boots and use raised walkways.
Last year a multi-billion-euro flood barrier called Mose which had been delayed for years because of corruption and ballooning costs finally helped to protect the city from high tides.
But it needs 48 hours to be activated, and authorities were caught off guard by a subsequent flood which pushed into Venice and left parts of the city underwater last December.
And in the spring of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic – which hit Italy especially hard during the first wave – led the water in the canals to turn clear after gondola traffic came to a virtual halt.
With no mud and garbage being churned up by the boats, Venetians could see tiny fish swimming in the clear waters and enjoyed unusual jellyfish and octopus sightings in the city.
Venice usually welcomes more than five million tourists a year, but has had to shut down much of its economy because of the series of lockdown measures over the last year.
JANUARY 2018: Gondolas are stranded on the Grand Canal in Venice on a previous low-tide occasion when the water levels reached an even lower depth than they have this month
JANUARY 2018: A bridge to nowhere in the Grand Canal as exceptionally low tides drained the lagoon city that year
NOVEMBER 2019: Venice had extreme weather of a very different kind 16 months ago when high waters overran St Mark’s Square, before a long-delayed flood barrier finally came in last year
MARCH 2020: Schools of fish were visible through the clear water (left) and white swans were swimming on the canals (right) after the Italian coronavirus lockdown brought gondola traffic to a near-standstill