Vehicles end up submerged as atmospheric tsunami hits coast

07/01/2023

The phenomenon, known as il-Milgħuba, is triggered by a sudden change in atmospheric pressure

Seiche waves returned to the Maltese coastline early on Saturday morning, with reports of vehicles being dragged into the sea thanks to the phenomenon known as an atmospheric tsunami.  

Police confirmed on Saturday morning that sea levels had risen in a number of coastal localities and said they had received one report of a car having been dragged into the water in St Paul's Bay. No one was injured in that incident, they said. 

Footage posted on social media suggested more vehicles were impacted, however: apart from the sunken vehicle in Salini which was flagged to the police, people also shared images of another car submerged at Veċċja point in Xemxija.

Photos also showed water levels rising at the Marsascala promenade, with seawater flooding the main road and reaching parked cars at around 3 am on Saturday morning.

The rising water also displaced some small boats, landing them on dry land. 

Seiche waves, or il-Milgħuba as it is known in Maltese, is a phenomenon that occurs when there is a sudden change in atmospheric pressure, causing the sea to rise rapidly and then quickly retreat a short while later.

Although the phenomenon is referred to as an atmospheric tsunami, it is not like tsunamis that displace large volumes of water, causing untold destruction.

When the seiche waves occur it is because air pressure is pushing down on the sea, causing it to move back from the shore as it drifts towards the dip. It then flows back towards the shore as it settles into place, creating an oscillation until the water settles. 

A car had to be hauled out of the water from Salini on Saturday morning. Photo: Jonathan Borg
A car had to be hauled out of the water from Salini on Saturday morning. Photo: Jonathan Borg

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