St. Mark's Square in Venice was submerged on Tuesday, and an incorrect forecast may be to blame. The city has since October had an experimental system of inflatable barriers in place to prevent flooding. Thing is, the $8 billion system is activated when high tides are expected to reach a minimum of 4 feet, 4 inches. On Tuesday, the waters were predicted to hit just 4 feet, 1 inch, below the activation threshold. But they reached just over 4 feet, 6 inches, flooding shops and restaurants. Stronger-than-expected winds are apparently to blame for the elevated tides. "Unfortunately, the weather is freer than us. It does what it wants," said Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro. The AFP notes the city's lowest point is St. Mark's Square, which sits roughly three feet above sea level.
The AP reports Venice suffered its worst flooding in half a century a year ago, when high tides hit 6.5 feet. The barriers—78 moveable ones—can safeguard the city from tides of up to 10 feet and is designed to be readied in just 30 minutes. But the Guardian explains that by the time the water reached the lagoon Tuesday morning, it was too late to get the system up and running. That system is known as MOSE (that's (MOdulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, or Experimental Electromechanical Module), a nod to the Biblical figure Moses, who parted the waters of the Red Sea. Brugnaro commented on the learnings from Tuesday's flooding, "To activate MOSE a bigger forecast is necessary. We will have to review the rules of the command post." (Read more Venice stories.)