Between 8pm Monday night and 8am yesterday morning, almost twice as much rain fell on Rio de Janeiro than was expected for the entire month of April. Early reports have yet to assess the total number of casualties brought about by this highly unusual weather, but currently the death toll stands at over 100, with many more injured. The rains have collapsed buildings, triggered mudslides, and flooded thoroughfares. Thousands are left homeless. Officials have scrambled to maintain order, but as the rain continues to fall, some are beginning to wonder if climate change is to blame.
Rio's Poor are the Hardest Hit
The governor of Rio, Sergio Cabral, says that the biggest losses of life were due to mudslides in the city's poor, hillside communities, called favelas. In these regions, building regulations are virtually nonexistent and addressing safety concerns is difficult. Cabral criticized past administrations "who, by demagogy allowed in the past, high-risk areas to be occupied."
According to authorities, many other hillsides in Rio face a similar threat of landslides...
Weather extremes in Brazil have become a reality in recent years, as the country has faced record-breaking rains in some regions and long, devastating droughts in others. Often, when such unusual weather struck in years past, El Niño was assigned the blame. But this most recent storm is occurring after this year's El Niño had passed with average intensity.
After experiencing the latest round of extreme weather, some in Brazil wonder if this may be symptomatic of climate change. Ambiente Brasil, in posing the question "Who is to blame for the tragedy today in Rio?", sites climate expert Alexandre Mansur of Revista Época:
Now, it is good to prepare as extreme events may become more frequent in the coming years. Significant effects of climate change (when weather patterns become unrecognizable) will only begin from 2020. But already in this decade we will have, according to researchers, extraordinary events will become commonplace. The records that held every 20 years and marked a generation, begin to repeat themselves more regularly. It's a good reason to stop the construction in inappropriate places.
Rio de Janeiro Hit by Massive Storm Surge (4-10-2010)
One week after Rio De Janeiro suffered from torrential rains and deadly mudslides, the Brazilian city was dealt extreme waves and a massive storm surge.
A storm surge is an unusual rise in sea level on the coast due to a low pressure weather system and accompanying high winds.
An extra-tropical cyclone, or a storm that forms outside the tropics, formed along the coast of Rio and caused the storm surge. The features of this storm are similar to the Nor'easter that occurs along the East Coast of the U.S.
"Extra-tropical cyclones are common in the South Atlantic," said Alexandre Aguair of METSUL Meteorological Center in Brazil. "But they usually form along the coast of Argentina and in the Plata region."
Sometimes, storm surges affect the southern coast of Brazil but if the cyclone is very deep, the surge may reach the Southeast region.
"As this system developed much more to the North than usual, the surge didn't have an impact in the South, but it was a direct hit for Sao Paulo and mainly Rio," Aguair said.