Heatwaves, cold snaps, and ever-increasing rain deficits: winter in Chile, and specifically in the central regions, has been marked by unusual weather. Records were shattered, with experts pointing at rare weather phenomena and climate change as the primary drivers. If the current winter is a sign for the summer ahead, Chile should expect extreme heat and drought.
On Thursday, July 29, authorities in the Metropolitan region declared an Environmental Alert due to poor air quality. Nothing rare this time of year, but the number of alerts might increase this winter if we follow current weather patterns – which are more than just unusual when compared with recent years’ averages.
Heat records were shattered in July in the Metropolitan region. In fact, it was the warmest July recorded for the central region. In the first 20 days of the month, an average temperature of 18°C was recorded, while maximum temperatures in this month are usually below 15°C. The weather station at San José de Guayacán, near the municipality of San José de Maipo the Andean mountain range, logged temperatures over 30°C for three straight days – a heatwave in the middle of winter.
April and May also registered heatwaves. Temperatures from April to June averaged 21.4°C, almost two degrees higher than the usual temperatures and also a record-breaking average since authorities started tracking temperatures in 1914.
Temperatures also plummeted to new recorded lows. So far this winter, 11 mornings were below 0°C in the municipality of Santiago, which on average records only nine mornings of frost a year. This is also where it gets interesting: July is likely to be the month with the lowest average minimum temperature in Santiago in the last 50 years. Extreme cold at night, unusual heat during the day: July is a month of extremes.
The weather phenomena are partly explained by the lack of rain Chile is experiencing. Without cloud cover, temperatures fluctuate even more, experts say. In the Metropolitan region, 78.1 mm of rain fell this year, which is 66 percent below the average. However, 40 mm of this rain fell in January, so only 38.1 mm fell in the six months that followed.
To put this into perspective, on average, July alone usually sees 68 mm of rainfall. This month, it was only 0.6 mm, making July the third driest July ever recorded, after 1950 and 1998 – worrying, experts say, as June and July are usually the wettest months of the year. And this isn’t likely to change anytime soon: no rain is expected through the end of the month, and heatwaves are forecast for early August, with temperatures breaking above 30°C.
Snowpack in the Andes is also unusually low: it is only at 16 percent of normal. Glaciers, water basins, and reserves, all suffer from water deficit. Other regions are also seeing water deficits: so far this year, some of the southernmost regions are 55 percent below normal.
The winter is set to continue the same warm, dry path, according to weather predictions. There might be some relief in the form of rain by the third week of August, but, according to meteorologists. this will nevertheless remain a very dry winter, one of the most extreme ever recorded.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.