Power grid fails as Argentina hit by record-breaking heatwave

Temperatures hit 45C with extreme heat set to last until the weekend

Harry Cockburn
Environment Correspondent
Wednesday 12 January 2022 14:20
<p>Heat map showing temperatures rising to 45C in Argentina</p>

Heat map showing temperatures rising to 45C in Argentina

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A historic heatwave with temperatures soaring up to 45C (113F) has hit Argentina, causing power grids to fail and leaving at least 700,000 people without electricity in Buenos Aires.

Hot dry weather, driven by the Pacific Ocean’s La Nina weather pattern, has made the South American nation the hottest place in the world, with current temperatures rising above those in Australia, bringing Argentina’s hottest day since 1957.

The role of the climate crisis in exacerbating heatwaves is well documented – though no single weather event can be attributed to global warming patterns. Nonetheless, the record highs come amid heightened concerns in Argentina over rising temperature trends, and lack of rainfall which has seen water levels in the major Parana river drop to an almost 80-year low.

Electricity companies in Argentina blamed a huge spike in demand for energy, which caused technical failures resulting in the power cuts.

The outage came as temperatures in the capital rose higher than 41C, while higher temperatures were recorded elsewhere.

According to the Buenos Aires Times, city authorities said on Tuesday that the heatwave had delivered a high of 41.1C at 4.05pm local time – the second-highest reading in the capital since 1906.

Forecasters have said the country will likely see similar highs on Thursday and Friday, with cooler temperatures expected to arrive on Sunday.

Argentinian leaders warned residents to stay out of the sun in the hottest part of the day, wear light clothes and stay hydrated.

"We have to be very careful these days," said Buenos Aires mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta.

Meteorologist Lucas Berengua told Reuters the heatwave was “off the charts” and would likely set new records in the country.

“This is a heatwave of extraordinary characteristics, with extreme temperature values that will even be analysed after its completion, and it may generate some historical records for Argentina temperatures and persistence of heat,” he said.

The power cuts have left Buenos Aires’ residents with no air conditioning to cool down.

“I came home and we were without electricity and the house was a furnace,”Jose Casabal, 42, told Reuters. “So I took [the children] off to their grandmother’s house to swim in the pool.”

Other residents described the heat as “unbearable”.

Marta Lorusso, 59, an architect, said the changing climate was a major concern: “I was always born here in a temperate climate and I saw how the temperature changed over the years, and it is not what we’re used to,” he said.

“This with the low pressure really kills me, I can’t stand it. I drink litres of water and do what I can. And on top of it all, without electricity. I don’t know what to do.”

Farmers have warned that Argentina’s crops have likely experienced the greatest level of heat stress in recent weeks than they have in several years. Due to the long dry spell, soil moisture levels have been depleted and crop stress has increased, according to the US publication AgWeb Farm Journal.

The record heatwave comes after studies have sounded the alarm on the impact of the climate crisis on South American animals. A 2019 heatwave, also in Argentina, caused the mass death of Magellanic penguins, which scientists described as a “major concern”.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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