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There’s no calm after the storm

Matteo de Mayda

Between the 26th and the 30th of October 2018, an extreme weather event stormed Italy, hitting with unprecedented violence the Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. On the night of October 29th, in particular, the incessant heavy rain caused the mountain creeks to flood and wind blowing from the South-east at up to 200 km/h tore down approximately 14 million trees in some valleys of the Dolomites and the Prealps. The following day, people living here contemplated for a few moments the wasted landscape, then they rolled up their sleeves to fix the most urgent issues: damaged buildings, unroofed houses, streets and squares filled with mud, upset riverbeds, destroyed aqueducts, phone and electricity lines fallen to the ground.

More than two years later the consequences of Storm Vaia are still tangible. Collecting the fallen trees is a complex operation that requires experience and resources, so many of them are still on the ground. Their wood is feeding ground for the Ips typographus, a parasite beetle that could easily spill from the trees on the ground to those that are still standing, potentially destroying six times as much forest as the storm did. Furthemore, the fallen trees no longer represent a protection against landslides and avalanches, and upset riverbeds are no longer able to contain and channel the water. As if this wasn’t enough, the economy of these mountain communities is struggling: the price of wood has plummeted and many tourist activities have been temporarily closed.

Storms have always been part of the history of forests, but climate change is amplifying their power and frequency. On one hand, the rise of two degrees in the temperature of the Mediterranean sea in October has surely contributed to Vaia’s intensity. On the other hand, the rise of the European spruce’s line is modifying not only the landscape, but the entire ecosystem of these woods. So, as people living in these areas slowly go back to normality, every time the wind blows they ask themselves the same disquieting question: when is the next storm going to hit? And what will it leave behind?

Mixing archive photography and reportage, satellite and microscope imagery, first-hand accounts and scientific theories, this project aims to tell the story of Vaia. Conceived when the emergency was already over and developed over the course of more than a year, it analyzes what has happened with the time to ponder causes, responsibilities, consequences, opportunities and future outlooks, while raising awareness about climate change.

The work was born in collaboration with the TESAF and DAFNAE departments at the University of Padua.

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