Italy shivers through 'cursed spring' of relentless rain

June normally heralds the arrival of summer heat, but 2013's capricious weather is fuelling new meteorological obsession

© Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis
Pope Francis surrounded by Catholics sheltering from the heavy rain under umbrellas in St Peter's Square this week.
As the breeze swept in under the cafe's parasols and the sky darkened over Rome, waiter Apu Haq exchanged commiserations with a customer nursing an espresso and a scowl. "They said summer was going to arrive this week," remarked Haq, "and instead came winter." Within minutes, torrential rain was lashing the cobblestones as thunder rumbled in the distance. "It's all the wrong way round," said a bewildered Haq, from Bangladesh. "It's incredible. I've been here for 10 years now and I've never seen anything like it. It's too strange."

Italian springs are often strange, but this one will perhaps be remembered as particularly capricious. As with much of northern Europe, the country has shivered its way through a good deal of the year. In the north-west, according to the Italian meteorological society, residents have had the coldest May since 1991. In much of the north-east, the spring has been the wettest for at least 150 years. A mountain stage of the Giro d'Italia bike race was called off due to snow and ice. Beach resorts in Tuscany have been flooded. Many farmers have suffered huge damage to their crops.

Now, as June arrives, it should technically be summer. But it certainly doesn't feel like it. "Last year, by this point, we were going to the sea. At the beginning of June we went down to the Fori Imperiali and sunbathed," said Mario Ramelli, a street-corner florist in central Rome. This spring's brutto tempo has been a topic of conversation with many of his customers - that is, those who stop to buy a pot of pansies or, optimistically, some sunflowers. "When it's horrid and wet, people hurry by," said Ramelli. "It's not good for work."

In countries such as Britain where changeable weather is a given, the coming meteorological events have always been a favoured topic of conversation. But among Italians, this so-called cursed spring appears to have created what one magazine has called the latest national obsession.

"As well as a country of saints, poets and sailors, we are now a people of meteorologists," declared Panorama magazine, part of Silvio Berlusconi's media empire. "The more it rains," it noted, gloomily, "the more we become like the Americans, addicted to the weather forecast, glued to the Weather Channel, talking only of this."

Certainly, the grey skies have ushered in a boom time for the array of weather apps and websites on offer to aid navigation of the first unpredictable few months of 2013. "We are seeing an exponential growth," said Antonio Sanò, director of He said the site had almost doubled its daily number of unique browsers, from 1.8m last year to 3m this year, and had even reached 6m during particularly mischievous periods. "It's explained by the strange weather, but also by the fact that every day ever more people put their trust in the forecasts," he said.

As well as giving forecasts, sites such as also advise on how to cope with the changeable weather - not to mention the physical and psychological ailments some claim it can cause. "Many Italians, an estimated 2 million, appear to suffer from 'spring sickness'," wrote the site. "The symptoms are: all-over fatigue, bad mood, anxiety, irritability and concentration problems."

As they ponder the weather forecast, many of Italy's millions of tourists would be forgiven for experiencing at least some of the above. But most - especially those from northern Europe - are putting on a brave face. "We were a little disappointed when we saw the temperatures," said Rachel Thorn-Roberts, an Anglo-American on holiday with her husband and two children, "but we live in France." Meteorologists declared 24 May to have been Paris's coldest - at just 3.7C - since 1887.

"A lot of non-Italian tourists are coming without umbrellas, and they don't like this weather," said Abdul Riki, one of Rome's enterprising street-sellers who come to the rescue of foolhardy flâneurs caught in a downpour. Normally, he said, he and his colleagues would have swapped their stock for sun hats and bottles of water by now. But, judging by the forecast, there seems little point in changing just yet.