Winter heatwave: Another South American country is sweltering in record temperatures

Winter heatwave: Another South American country is sweltering in record temperatures

Brazil has been hit by record temperatures of almost 42°C, despite still being in winter.

The rare heatwave engulfed 19 of Brazil's 26 states on Thursday, as well as the capital of Brasilia, according to the National Meteorological Institute.

It also brought dry conditions and low humidity for the country that's home to the Amazon tropical rainforest.

Earlier this month, Chile also experienced a winter heatwave with temperatures soaring to 37°C.

Brazil records year's highest temperature

Four state capitals recorded the year’s highest temperature on Wednesday. Cuiabá, in central-western Brazil, the highs reached 41.8°C.

Residents in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil’s two most populous cities, were also hit by the heatwave. In Rio, temperatures reached 38.7°C on Thursday - the city's second hottest day of 2023.

Beachgoers hit many of the country's famous sandy stretches, including the Rio's Copacabana.

Authorities said northeastern states of Bahia and Piauí saw the air humidity drop below 20 per cent and the government recommended people avoid physical activities and stay indoors during the hottest times of the day.

Summer is still four months away in the Southern Hemisphere.

What's behind Brazil's extreme weather?

Last month, Brazil experienced its hottest July since official measurements began in 1961, reflecting the global record, with the average temperature measuring 23°C.

Climatologist Jose Marengo from the national disaster monitoring centre said warmer days during winter are typically caused by a high-pressure anomaly that forms a dome over a stretch of states, including the southeast and southern Amazon.

“With clear skies and abundant sunshine, the ground heats up, initiating a process that leads to the formation of a warm air bubble that prevents the entry of humidity,” he told news agency The Associated Press.

Climate change and the El Niño phenomenon likely amplified higher temperatures and drier weather conditions, according to Renata Libonati, a researcher with Rio de Janeiro Federal University.

According to Marengo, the current hot days in the Brazilian winter have less impact in the population than the heatwaves recorded in Europe because Brazilian cities are more accustomed to tropical temperatures.

AP Photo/Bruna Prado
A digital sign displays the temperature at 42C in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, 24 August 2023. - AP Photo/Bruna Prado

Will Brazil's balmy weather continue?

Marengo said time will tell whether what is happening this week is indeed a heatwave as it is likely to be interrupted with the arrival of a cold wave in a few days.

On TV Globo, Brazil's prime news network, smiling reporters interviewed beachgoers in Rio de Janeiro - still a minority in the metropolis of almost 7 million people.

"The media coverage doesn’t always help to gauge the crisis,” says Claudio Angelo, from the Climate Observatory, a network of dozens of environmental and social groups. The positive side if there is one, he said, is that now at least the reports have started to talk about climate change.