First of all, don’t freak out! High tide in Venice is a natural phenomenon that always happened in the city. Venetians are used to it and we are prepared!! The flooding season is usually in winter, from October to March.
Why does it flood? This is the most popular question tourists ask me.
In short, it depends on the weather. It is not so much because of the rain, as a lot of people think, but rather because of lunar cycles, low atmospheric pressure and a warm wind called Scirocco. When the Scirocco pushes the water from the Mediterranean Sea to the Northern part of the Adriatic Sea (where Venice is), the city floods. And, fortunately, it doesn’t flood for days, but just for few hours at a time. If it floods in the morning, surely it will not in the afternoon, as the tide changes every six hours.
What can you do when it happens? In the main streets you will find the passerelle, wooden walkways (not to be mistaken for welcome benches for tourists or scaffolding!!) allowing you to walk above the flooding; then, of course, you can wear plastic temporary boots that many shops sell for few euros. Or, if you have time and won’t risk missing your flight, you can just relax and wait few hours.
Last year, on October 29 (2018), we had an exceptionally high tide here and TV stations all over the world portrayed a dramatic situation in the city. The high tide came around 4 in the afternoon, but weather conditions were so ominous from early in the morning onward that the forecast was worsening constantly. A violent rain was abruptly stopping and starting back up, the Scirocco was blowing with ever-gathering strengh from the sea into the lagoon.
I had a tour in the morning and my clients and I were able to finish it safely and on schedule. All tours in the afternoon were canceled, shops closed, even the Museums shut down in order to allow people to return to their homes and hotels before the exceptional high tide.
I remember that afternoon the temperature was unusually warm because of the wind and the sky was yellow due to the African sand the Scirocco was bringing. The tide reached 1,56 cm (around 5 feet) and Saint Mark’s square became a frighful swimming pool where the passerelle were removed because the tide was even higher than them. Policemen wearing thigh high fishing boots were stopping people from passing through Saint Mark’s square for safety reasons.
The day after Venetians had a lot of work to do, cleaning all the shops, storage spaces and the ground floors of their properties. Fortunately, exceptional high tides are really uncommon, so, you can always ask to your Best Venice guide to bring you safely through the streets that are not flooded.
Here you will find a map of possible walkways.