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Historic polar outbreak invades South America's "cone"
The worst winter weather in several generations pushed up into South America last weekend and early this week bringing life-threatening temperatures and widespread low-level snow. It was remarkable for its intensity, especially at low elevations, and its geographic spread as it covered seven southern countries in the continent, locally known as "the cone".
The polar outbreak brought snow to Santiago in Chile, down to sea level not far from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and deep snow along the Andes. The polar wave dropped temperatures by over 20° in a matter of hours, and pushed as far north as Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil. Temperatures kept dropping to break records at some long-standing stations by large amounts.
Snow fell in Santigo in Chile (500m elevation) on Saturday 15 July, killing one person, injuring two and leaving 250,000 without power. Seventeen centimetres of snow accumulated in the city which, at 33.5°S, is the same distance from the equator as Sydney. Up to 40cm was reported in some eastern suburbs surpassing depths reached in the exceptional storm of 1971. The view across the city to the Andes later on Saturday, after the snow melted in the city and the cloud cleared, was spectacular. Airports, numerous main highways south of Santiago and mountain passes were closed, and the storm even forced suspension of the football matches of the Chile Cup.
Conditions were more serious in Argentina where at least four deaths were caused by the cold, which reached a record -25.4° at the ski resort town of Bariloche on 16 July. The previous record of -21° was set in 1963 [Argentina-Servicio Meteorologico Nacional† and TASS†]. Fresh powder snow in the Andes was up to waist level. Snow even fell in the city of Rosario (31m), on the Paraná River 280km upstream of Buenos Aires.
The polar outbreak moved north into Uruguay, Paraguay, southern Brazil, Peru and Bolivia early this week (17-19 July). In the Peru/Chile/Bolivia border area it brought minimum temperatures in the -10 to -15° range. In Bolivia, gale-force winds compounded the discomfort in some areas while the government closed many schools between 17 and 19 July. In Uruguay, unaccustomed to such cold conditions, the government issued advice† to the population on how to keep houses warm, and how to avoid, recognise and treat hypothermia. Temperatures in the country dropped as low as -10°.
This is one of a succession of severe cold changes to sweep through South America, with life for those on the land so dire on the Bolivian Altiplano and higher parts of Peru, Chile and Argentina that their governments are distributing aid throughout the region. Snow has been only one of the problems. It has been accompanied by high winds, very cold temperatures and frosts that have put livestock at risk and ruined subsistence crops that many people on the land rely on.
Australian weather briefs
| Heavy snow stopped falling and the sun, and visitors, came out at Cradle Mountain early this afternoon. Snow at the car park level was officially measured at 15cm deep. TAS Parks & Wildlife Service
- An active cold front pushed through TAS this morning bringing the heaviest snow so far this winter to highland areas and falling as low as 400m. You can see the snow accumulating rapidly between 09.00 and 12.00 EST (23.00 to 02.00 UTC) in this Himawari satellite animation*. On the Central Plateau, the Great Lake Hotel offered its guests more picture postcard opportunities.
- The front also brought boisterous winds around Bass Strait as it moved through with both Wilsons Promontory VIC and nearby Hogan Island reporting gusts to 128km/h. In far NW TAS, Cape Grim reported 115km/h.
- More good snow fell across the skiing resorts overnight and this morning, with Snowy Hydro's weekly reading at Spencer's Creek, mid-way between Perisher Valley and Charlotte Pass showing 88cm this morning, an increase of 29cm in the past week and 84cm in the past three weeks. There was also a good cover of snow around Lake Jindabyne this morning at an elevation of 920m.
- Farther north in QLD and the NT, the strong temperature gradient between the cold weather down south and the consistent warmth of the tropics has strengthened the trade winds, bringing out strong wind warnings in the Gulf of Carpentaria and setting new records for high daily average wind speeds. Today it was the turn of Brisbane Airport, its average wind speed over the full 24 hours to 09.00 being 28.8km/h, the highest in 14 years.