South America Cold Wave Brings Rare Snow, Freezing Deaths

July 20, 2010; 1:08 AM ET
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A rare cold snap has encompassed South America, with abnormal snowfall and hypothermia deaths. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

More than a week of abnormal cold has chilled Argentina and other parts of South America, leaving rare snow, rewriting record books and causing hypothermia deaths.

The outbreak began more than one week ago with biting winds out of Antarctica chilling southernmost Chile and Argentina, a land known as Patagonia.

The cold outbreak set up the Andean region for deep snow. In the Chilean district of Aysen, the snowstorm was said to be worst in 30 years and left more than 2 feet of snow on the ground at both Coihaique and Balmaceda. According to a meteorologist at MetSul, a weather service in southern Brazil, snow accumulation to 5 feet was reported from Balmaceda. The Army were called upon to rescue people trapped by the snow.

Snow spread northward in Argentina along the eastern side of the Andes. Mendoza, a region known for its wine, not snow, had snow said to be the heaviest in a decade.

Rare snow whitened the resort beaches of Mar del Plata on the morning of July 15.

Snow was seen for the first time in living memory in parts of Santiago del Estero, the MetSul meteorologist said. In the far north, one town of Tucuman had snow for the first time since 1921.

In all, nearly every province of Argentina experienced at least a little snow, an unusual event.

On July 16, the cold blast brought Buenos Aires its lowest temperature, -1.5 C, or 29 F, since 1991. On city outskirts, the airport at Ezeiza registered consecutive lows of 26 F, 26 F and 23 F, on July 15-17, respectively.

The cold snap brought record electrical power demand to the city, and Argentina had to import electrical current from neighboring Brazil.

Strong southerly winds blasted the cold into Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil.

Rare snow was sighted on the Chaco of southern Bolivia as severe windswept cold gripped the lofty Andean Altiplano. Wet snow and sleet were seen in Uruguay.

Snow whitened highest spots along the mountains of Santa Catarina state, and one town in the state, Urupema, saw temperatures dip as low as -7.8 C, or 18 F, according to MetSul.

The cold front that ushered the cold northward did something few such fronts ever do: it slipped across the Equator with a noticeable drop in temperature in southeastern Colombia and northwestern Brazil before dissipating amidst tropical warmth.

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