Italy: Emilia-Romagna Floods, May 2023

Catastrophic flooding hits Italy’s Emilia-Romagna after record drought

From 16 May, six months’ rain fell in a day and a half in Italy, leaving more than 20 rivers bursting their banks. These floods came just two weeks after a previous flood event in the Emilia-Romagna region. At least 13 people have died whilst thousands were forced to leave their homes. The mayor of Ravenna (a city badly affected by flooding) said it was the worst disaster in a century (BBC, 2023). With 300 landslides, 400 damaged roads and 42 flooded municipalities, torrential rains have devastated the region of Romagna (Al Jazeera, 2023).

Event overview

In early May, Botteghino di Zocca in the Bologna area recorded 198.2 mm of rain in just 24 hours whilst 163.8 mm was recorded in the town of Ponticelli during the same period. The worst affected areas were in the provinces of Ravenna, Bologna, and Forlì-Cesena. Several rivers overflowed after more than 48 hours of incessant rains. Levels of the Lamone River surged by over 10 metres in less than a day (FloodList, 2023).

Then, on 16 May, heavy rain hit again. In addition to Emilia-Romagna, the neighbouring regions of Tuscany and Marche also experienced heavy rainfall (Euronews, 2023).

 Map with affected areas in Emilia-Romagna

Figure 1: Satellite-observed rainfall animation showing 24-hour rainfall accumulations between 14 May 2023 and 18 May 2023. Rainfall data source: NASA GPM, 2023. Animation produced by JBA Risk Management, 2023.

More than 10,000 people fled their households; some were plucked from balconies and rooftops by rescue helicopters and others were ferried out on civil protection dinghies (Independent, 2023). On 20 May, the authorities in Ravenna ordered the immediate evacuation of at-risk hamlets. Near Lugo, a helicopter which was involved in attempts to restore electricity crashed, injuring one of the four people who were onboard (Guardian, 2023).

Nearly half of the evacuated people spent the night in local refuge centres that were set up in hotels and gyms, with meals supplied by kitchens installed in different cities. Faenza residents had to clear the mud out of their homes along with clothes, furniture, and mattresses that were ruined due to the flood (Straits Times, 2023).

Agricultural lobbyist Coldiretti said 5,000 farms with nurseries, stables and greenhouses were submerged, including thousands of acres of grain fields, fruit groves, vegetable farms and vineyards. As authorities began mapping out a reconstruction plan, farmers warned of “incalculable” losses. (Independent, 2023).

Due to severe flooding in the region, the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix was called off. The decision was made following a red weather warning which was issued on 16 and 17 May (BBC, 2023a). While in Venice, with hopes of sparing the city from high-tide flooding, the officials were preparing to initialise a mobile barrier in the lagoon (Independent, 2023a).

Climate change and its role

The flooding was exacerbated by the previous months of drought conditions which dried out soils and reduced their capacity to store water. According to Andrea Betti, the vice president of the farming organisation, Confagricoltura Ravenna, “The ground was dry due to the drought, cracks had formed and, as we know, dry ground becomes impermeable.” As the soil cannot absorb the rainwater, it travels across the ground – as Betti says, “destroying everything” (CNN, 2023).

The National Council of Geologists’ head, Arcangelo Francesco, said, "We must adapt to the new climate conditions, but not use them as an excuse." Italy’s diverse geology exposes the country to natural disasters including floods and storms (Reuters, 2023).

With further floods and landslides wreaking havoc in Bosnia, Slovenia and Croatia, experts have warned that climate-related disasters are mounting in southern Europe (Euronews, 2023).

Economic losses

On the back of ongoing damage assessments, the local authorities are anticipating economic losses to be in the billions of Euros. As there is an existing protection gap for flood coverage, the insurance industry is likely to bear only a smaller portion of the overall costs (Reinsurance News, 2023). The farming organisation, Confagricoltura Ravenna, have made a preliminary estimate of about €1.5 billion ($1.6 billion USD) for damages to crops in the Emilia-Romagna region (Bloomberg, 2023). 

In a changing climate, businesses should act now to understand both current and future flood risk. Along with comprehensive climate change data, JBA offers probabilistic modelling and high-resolution hazard maps for all flood types in Italy. For more information, get in touch with our team. 

This report is accompanied by a flood footprint for the event - detailing extents and depths of the flooding in areas affected. Download it via our Client Portal or request a copy by emailing

This report is covered by JBA’s website terms – please read them here.


Al Jazeera, 2023. At least 13 killed, towns cut off in Italian floods. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2023] 

BBC, 2023. Italy floods leave 13 dead and force 13,000 from their homes. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2023]

BBC, 2023a. Emilia Romagna Grand Prix: Imola race called off because of major flooding. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2023]

Bloomberg, 2023. Flood Disaster Could Cost Italy €1.5 Billion in Damage to Crops. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2023]

CNN, 2023. Floods ruin crops and drown livestock in one of Italy’s gastronomic heartlands. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2023]

Euronews, 2023. Italy travel: Everything you need to know as cleanup begins after ‘apocalyptic’ floods. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2023]

FloodList, 2023. Italy – 2 Dead, Hundreds Displaced After “Unprecedented” Floods in Emilia-Romagna. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2023]

Guardian, 2023. Weather tracker: Italy’s floods exacerbated by months of drought. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2023]

Independent, 2023. Crews work to reach Italian towns isolated by floods as cleanup begins. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2023]

Independent, 2023a. Rain-swollen rivers flood some towns in north Italy; Venice prepares to raise mobile dike in lagoon. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2023]

NASA Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM), 2023. Precipitation Data Directory. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2023]

Reuters, 2023. Exceptional weather becomes the new norm in exposed Italy. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2023]

Reinsurance News, 2023. Massive flooding in Italy to cost billions, highlighting large insurance protection gap: Aon. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2023]

Straits Times, 2023. Italy flood deaths rise to 14 as thousands wait to get home. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2023]