RIO DE JANEIRO — It’s still spring in Brazil, but a dangerous heat wave is hitting large swaths of the country, forcing vendors in Rio de Janeiro off the streets due to health alerts and increasing demand for energy amid reports of power outages. .
Most Brazilian states face a “great danger” from the heat, according to the National Institute of Meteorology. The institution issued a red alert for the central-west, southeast and parts of the north warning of “high probability of major damage and accidents, with risks to physical integrity or even human life.”
The heat index – a combination of temperature and humidity – reached 58.5 degrees Celsius (137 Fahrenheit) on Tuesday morning in Rio, the highest index ever recorded there. Actual temperatures dropped slightly on Wednesday, but were forecast to rise back to 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) on Thursday.
The Cariocas, as the Cariocas are known, have always seen the sun, the heat and the beach as part of their identity, said Núbia Beray, coordinator of the GeoClima laboratory at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. But this is too much even for many of them, she said.
“Cariocas return from work in buses without air conditioning. Street vendors cannot work because they sometimes faint. “The heat kills,” Beray said.
Extreme heat can affect breathing, kidneys and the heart, and the very young and elderly are especially at risk.
“Maximum 39°C and it’s not even summer yet,” the Rio city council told X on Tuesday, before Twitter. The mayor’s office recommended eating fruits and vegetables and having an umbrella on hand to protect yourself from the shade.
In Sao Paulo, temperatures reached 37.7 degrees Celsius (99.9 F), just short of a record, according to the meteorology company MetSul. The state of Mato Grosso do Sul, in the country’s interior, recorded 43 degrees Celsius (109.4 F) last week, the actual temperature record during this heat wave, according to the country’s meteorology institute, known for the Portuguese acronym Inmet.
Brazilians turned to fans, air conditioners and dehumidifiers to cool off, and utility companies reported record demand for energy. Power outages were reported in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Amid intense heat, wildfires burn widely in the Pantanal biome, the world’s largest tropical wetland spanning parts of the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. The fires have devastated an area the size of Cyprus, or more than 947,000 hectares (about 3,600 square miles), according to the Environmental Satellite Applications Laboratory at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Temperatures throughout South America are affected by the El Niño climate phenomenon, a periodic natural event that warms surface waters in the Equatorial Pacific region. But this year, ocean temperatures rose extremely quickly: within a couple of months, said Danielle Ferreira, a climatologist at Inmet.
“This indicates that the impacts are accelerating,” Ferreira said.
In Brazil, El Niño has historically caused droughts in the north and heavy rains in the south, Ferreira said. This year, the impacts of the climate event have been particularly dramatic.
In the Amazon rainforest, the drought has been so severe that communities dependent on dry waterways are stranded without supplies of fuel, food or filtered water. And in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, devastating floods killed dozens of people.
Scientists say extreme weather is occurring more frequently due to human-caused climate change.
Heat waves have become seven times more frequent over the past seven decades, according to a study released this week by the National Space Research Institute, a federal agency. The current one is the eighth to arrive in Brazil this year.
For the first time, the country now has a region that has the characteristics of a desert: in the northeastern state of Bahia, a federal agency study showed this month.
As global temperatures rise, water evaporates more quickly. Desertification, as this phenomenon is known, is also advancing in other regions, said one of the authors of the study, hydrologist Javier Tomasella.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Tomasella said.