Natural Disasters in Montenegro: Catastrophes of the Past and Risks of the Future
Montenegro is a much sought-after tourist destination. Millions of tourists annually come here to relax on the luxurious beaches of the Adriatic Sea, to admire the beautiful mountains and see the historical monuments. And of course they should know in advance what natural disasters or catastrophes they may encounter. A natural disaster always comes unexpectedly, but knowing its potential can help you prepare for it.
Climate characteristics of Montenegro
Montenegro is situated on the Adriatic Sea coast in the subtropical climate zone, which is usually called the Mediterranean climate. The country is characterized by a clear division of the year into two seasons: hot and arid summers and cool winters with abundant precipitation.
Much of the country lies on the Dinaric highlands, which edge steeply towards the coast. The highest point of the country, Mount Zla Kolata, reaches 2534 metres above sea level. The coastal areas of Montenegro are commonly classified as seismic zones.
Potential hazards that could cause a natural disaster include:
- Seismic activity in the region. Can lead to strong earthquakes with devastation and loss of life.
- Seasonal storms and hurricanes. Lead to coastal damage, roofs being ripped off and trees being uprooted.
- Heavy precipitation. Characteristic of the winter season and can cause severe flooding not only along the coast, but also along the valleys of the many mountain rivers.
- Hot, dry weather. In summer, periodically causes forest areas to catch fire.
- Steep and rocky cliffs. Can cause landslides and rockfalls, posing a threat to tourists.
The importance of learning about the history of natural disasters
The history of natural disasters is important information to learn before travelling to your chosen country. Knowing the potential dangers that may be waiting for you, you can choose not only the right place, but also the time, the season of the year, when the threat of being in the epicentre of a natural disaster will be minimal.
For example, knowing that the second half of winter in Montenegro is characterised by increased stormy winds with heavy rainfall, you may choose to visit the country at a different time of year.
From this article you will learn chronology of natural disasters, which happened in Montenegro in the past.
In recent years, Montenegro and the surrounding countries have not recorded strong tremors, but such earthquakes have occurred in the past. Seismologists therefore do not rule out the possibility of a repeat of catastrophic earthquakes in the region.
26 July 1963, Skopje
A powerful 6.1 magnitude earthquake caused major damage to the city of Skopje, now the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, southeast of Montenegro. Many buildings in Skopje were damaged and more than 100 people were killed. Only faint tremors were felt in Montenegro.
19 April 1979, Bar
Early in the morning, a strong earthquake struck in the sea 15 kilometres off the coast between the towns of Bar and Ulcinj. Its epicentre was 12 kilometres deep, and its magnitude was 7. The strong shocks caused the destruction of not only modern houses, but also many historic monuments. One hundred thousand people were left homeless. The number of dead was 101 people.
3 June 2010, Serbia
The so-called Kraljevo earthquake occurred in central Serbia and affected neighbouring countries. The magnitude at the epicenter was 5.5 points, with a depth of about a kilometre. Many mostly old buildings in Serbia were destroyed. In Montenegro, only the weak shocks were felt, which had not led to any destructions.
As is known, destructive tsunami waves are always generated after earthquakes or submarine landslides. No tsunami waves have been recorded in the recent history of Montenegro. Neither was a tsunami generated by the Great Bara Earthquake of 1979. But in the distant past, tsunamis still struck the coast of Montenegro.
20 February 1743
On the deep night of February 20, a strong earthquake struck the Italian town of Salento. Its magnitude exceeded 7 points. Causing enormous damage to the city, the tremors caused a tsunami up to 11 metres high. The Italian region of Puglia was hardest hit by the tsunami, but it was also felt on the other side of the Adriatic Sea. The tsunami struck the coast of Montenegro and Albania, but was already severely weakened. Therefore, it did not cause any serious damage.
Storms and hurricanes
Strong storms and hurricanes are not uncommon in Montenegro in winter. They are caused by the wind from the storm that comes down from the mountains surrounding the coast and causes severe sea disturbances. This results in storms and damage to the coastal area.
Storms in the country are divided into black storm and white storm. Black storms occur when a cyclone passes and are always accompanied by heavy downpours. A white storm is characteristic of an anticyclone and brings no precipitation, but the wind gusts are more crushing.
On 23 February 2019, for example, the strongest hurricane hit the country. The wind tore shingles off roofs, fell centuries-old trees, and left many areas without electricity. In Montenegro, they say the storm lasts for 3, 5 or 9 days – such is their folk omen.
Torrential downpours, which can cause flooding, are not uncommon in Montenegro. A special feature of the country’s climate is precisely the heavy rainfall of the winter season. From November to March it often rains in the region.
Thus, on 22 November 2022 heavy rains came down in the south of Montenegro. Mountain rivers instantly overflowed their banks and turned into uncontrollable torrents. A car carrying a woman and two children was washed off a bridge by one of the torrents. All of them died in the raging disaster.
In November 2018, the entire south and coastal strip of Montenegro was also hit by the rains. In the city of Herceg Novi, 132 litres of water per square metre fell in a 24-hour period. Restaurants, cafes, hotels and industrial buildings were flooded. In Radanovici, 120 children from the local school were evacuated.
As a rule, after heavy rainfall in mountainous areas, which abound in Montenegro, landslides are to be expected. Although there are no very high mountains in the country, landslides still pose a risk, especially to those travelling by car.
In early March 2015 cyclone Rea hit Montenegro. Heavy rainfall led to a landslide on the outskirts of the town of Ulcinj. The flow of rocks and water damaged several houses and overturned cars standing on the roadside. Smaller landslides have also occurred in other regions of the country.
Summer heat and lack of rain often cause fires in forest areas. Usually the authorities deal with the fires quickly, but sometimes the situation gets out of control.
For example, the worst fires in Montenegro’s modern history occurred in July 2017. Forests and olive groves in the immediate vicinity of the coast were on fire. Although the resorts themselves were not affected, it was a cause of great concern among tourists. Smoke blanketed Kotor and yachts left its harbour at once.
The situation repeated itself in August 2022, but already in the Bara area. The fire reached almost to the coast, and the authorities were forced to close road and rail traffic. Fighting the fire was complicated by strong winds.
The biggest threat to tourists in Montenegro are winter storms and hurricanes. They cause the maximum damage to infrastructure and bring a lot of inconvenience to holidaymakers. The downpours that accompany hurricanes can lead to severe flooding, which is not conducive to safety either.
Earthquakes pose a potentially high risk to Montenegro. They are not regular, but there is a risk. An earthquake can occur at any time and is very difficult to predict.
Forest fires are controlled by the authorities and pose little threat to tourists.
The safest time of year to visit Montenegro is in summer. The heat at this time of year, though strong, but quite bearable, and in the mountains it is even comfortable. The sea is calm and precipitation is minimal. In the autumn and winter months there are often storms and downpours, the seawater cools down, and it is not safe to swim in it.