RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil is experiencing a dangerous heat wave despite being in the midst of spring, prompting health alerts that have led Rio de Janeiro’s vendors off the streets. The soaring temperatures have also spiked energy demand, causing power outages across various regions.
According to the National Institute of Meteorology, most states in Brazil are under a severe threat due to the scorching heat. They’ve issued red alerts for multiple areas, citing the high probability of significant damage and accidents, posing risks to both physical safety and human life. In Rio de Janeiro, the heat index hit a record-breaking 58.5 degrees Celsius (137 Fahrenheit) on Tuesday morning, while the forecast indicates a rise to 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) by Thursday after a slight drop in temperatures on Wednesday.
Núbia Beray, coordinator of Rio de Janeiro Federal University’s GeoClima laboratory, noted that even for the typically sun-loving Cariocas, the recent heat has been overwhelming. “People are commuting in buses without air conditioning, street vendors struggle to work due to fainting spells, and the heat is lethal,” Beray emphasized.
The scorching temperatures, hitting a maximum of 39°C before the summer season, have led to health concerns, especially for vulnerable groups like the young and elderly. Rio’s city hall advised citizens to consume fruits and vegetables and carry umbrellas for shade.
Elsewhere in Brazil, temperatures soared close to record-breaking levels, with Sao Paulo reaching 37.7 degrees Celsius and Mato Grosso do Sul hitting a scorching 43 degrees Celsius, causing an unprecedented strain on utilities and resulting in power outages in major cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
The intense heat has exacerbated wildfires across the Pantanal biome, devastating an area comparable to Cyprus, as reported by the Environmental Satellite Applications Laboratory of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
This extreme weather pattern has been influenced by El Niño, which typically affects South American temperatures but, this year, has seen an unusually rapid rise in ocean temperatures, accelerating its impacts, according to climatologist Danielle Ferreira from Inmet.
Historically, El Niño has caused droughts in Brazil’s north and heavy rainfall in the south. However, this year’s effects have been exceptionally severe, leading to dire situations in the Amazon rainforest and devastating floods in Rio Grande do Sul.
The increase in extreme weather occurrences, including heat waves occurring seven times more frequently in recent decades, is attributed to human-induced climate change, as highlighted by a study from the National Institute for Space Research.
Moreover, Brazil has witnessed the emergence of its first desert-like region in the northeastern Bahia state, signalling desertification due to rising global temperatures and accelerated water evaporation, as explained by hydrologist Javier Tomasella, who described the situation as unprecedented.