In Canada, we know to keep an eye on the weather, especially in winter. Here in Venice, it’s the water they keep an eye on; specifically, the tides, rain and wind. When the combination comes together in a certain fashion, the (un)fortunate result is a phenomenon known as the “Acqua Alta”. Starting on Sunday, we had one of the worst Acqua Alta’s in three years, with levels reaching 160 cm. As the tide rises, the lower parts of Venice often flood, or at least become wetter. From November to April, the sea levels are known to rise and it is then that the worst Acqua Altas can occur. When combined with heavy rainfall and wind, they have an even greater effect.

Venice has an alarm system to let residents know that there is one on the way and its potential severity. One chime is the least, with four chimes being the worst. All three of the Acquas this week, so far, have been four chimes. To get one’s attention even further, the alarms begin with a city wide blast of a WWII style air raid siren. Being a product of 1960’s and 70’s Hollywood propaganda, I was particularly unsettled by that noise!

One surprising element of the Acqua is the speed both of its arrival and its receding. I was returning to Venice on Sunday morning when the first one had begun to arrive and there was approximately 2 inches of water covering most walkways, but not our Campo. Two hours later, when I was leaving for the afternoon, our Campo was full of water and the walkways had risen to a level over my six-inch boots. (This resulted in a very uncomfortable afternoon at the opera, but that is for another blog!). However, 3 hours later when I left the opera, to my astonishment, the water had completely receded.

I was very hopeful that this was the end of my first Acqua, but I was sadly mistaken. Our first clue that the situation may get worse was an email telling us that all classes, including Warwick’s, were cancelled for Monday due to the anticipation of the rising waters. The second clue was the red alerts (literally) on my weather app for wind thunderstorms and rain. The third was the unmistakable sound of the air raid siren followed by four chimes at 7 am. By 10 am, our Campo was under water. However, this did not stop the businesses and tourists—at least the most hardy of them—from shopping, walking and dining. That was until the water kept rising with the added rain and wind. By 3 pm the vaporetto water buses were no longer running and St. Marco, along with the Ducal Palace—the greatest tourist attraction in Venice—were closed and under 3 feet of water. I have been through at least 4 tornados, countless thunderstorms, winter snowstorms and ice storms, but I have never seen Mother Nature unleash her power with so much vengeance as she did in the last 3 days.

This morning, our Campo is once again back to normal with our fish and fruit vendors out in full force and the cafes and restaurants getting ready for business. The stones are damp from the rain and dew, but no more than usual. In other words, the lady that Venice is, shook herself off, dusted and squared her shoulders and got ready for another day. Even during the storm, the resiliency of the Venetians was astonishing as they simply mopped it up and moved on, slogging through with pastries, gelatos and cappuccinos in hand.  I, on the other hand, cowered in my room, desperately wishing this was only a simple blizzard to deal with! Today, the tide and weather report is severe, but nothing harsh enough to set off the alarms, and we are all the wiser and more respectful. As for me, I am going to get some taller boots, those Canadian rain boots are not cut out for Acqua Altas!

Written by Linda Steele