World’s Driest Desert Floods as Extreme Weather Hits Chile

The world’s driest desert is flooding and some of the planet’s wettest woodlands are burning. Welcome to summer in Chile.

Rains high up in the Andes Mountains have led to torrents of water pouring into the Atacama desert below, sweeping away houses and roads. Meanwhile in the south, blistering temperatures have fueled forest fires, leading the government to declare some regions a disaster area.

President Sebastian Piñera declared a “zone of emergency” in northern Chile after heavy rains devastated the country’s El Loa province. Flooding caused six deaths and destroyed nearly 100 homes, the National Emergency Office sai. Alerts for heavy precipitation were in effect in Arica, Parinacota and Tarapaca.

The disasters are part of a pattern of increasingly extreme weather in the country that stretches for 4,270 kilometers (2,650 miles) along South America’s south-west coast. The capital, Santiago, hasn’t received its average annual rainfall in a decade, while temperatures in the city beat the previous record by a whole degree Celsius last month. It was the third time in three years the city has set a record high.

“Chile needs to be thinking about how to adapt to climate change, as it has such an isolated climate that makes it more vulnerable to droughts,” said Park Williams, a hydroclimatologist at Columbia University in New York. “For the last several decades, temperatures have risen and precipitation has declined in central Chile, making it more susceptible to wildfires.”

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