“Our house is on fire.” The phrase of the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg – which thousands of young people around the world adopted – was repeated with variations by the inhabitants of many towns in the country, overwhelmed by the heat, power outages that affected 78,295 users of the companies Edesur and Edenor (see separate) in different neighborhoods of the city of Buenos Aires and municipalities of the suburbs, and the forest fires impacting nine provinces. The high temperatures that have been recorded for more than a week do not give up; in eight provinces (Catamarca, Córdoba, Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero, Buenos Aires, Entre Ríos, La Rioja and Tucumán) the thermometer exceeded 40 degrees; only in Tierra del Fuego and Santa Cruz did it remain below 30 degrees. The record was in Santiago del Estero with 43.4°C, the Buenos Aires town of Punta Indio with 43.1°C, San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca with 42.6°C and La Rioja with 42°C. The City of Buenos Aires, which has been on orange alert for two days due to extreme temperatures, reached 41.5°C
as the announcer of Argentine events, the first cinematic newsreel, it could be said that “the thermometer gone mad reaches dizzying heights”. The city of Mar del Plata holds the record of 41.9, “the highest mark in its history,” as reported by the National Meteorological Service (SMN) on its official Twitter account. The Buenos Aires towns of Tres Arroyos, Coronel Pringles and Coronel Suárez also broke historical temperature records with 41.8; 40.1 and 39.3 respectively. Junín (41.6) and July 9 (41.4) in Buenos Aires; and Rosario (40.6) in Santa Fe had the highest temperature recorded during the month of January. These raised heat marks occur in within the framework of a heat wave that was cataloged as an extraordinary event by the SMN, an organization that in October celebrates 150 years of work, the third Meteorological Service created in the world.
SMN: “An extraordinary heat wave”
Cindy Fernández, from the SMN, reminds Page 12 that the heat wave with temperatures above 40 degrees began in the Cuyo area and northern Patagonia on Thursday, January 6, and anticipates that next week there will be “very low” temperatures for the summer, “almost autumn.” For the meteorologist it is “normal” to have heat waves during the summer. To speak of a heat wave, three consecutive days are needed that exceed certain thresholds of minimum and maximum temperatures. Fernández points out that these values are not the same for all cities because “they depend on the climate of the place.” In La Rioja, for example, a heat wave occurs after three consecutive days of a minimum of 23.5 and a maximum of 38.7; in Usuhaia, the minimum must be 7.8 and the maximum 17.3, and in the city of Buenos Aires, the minimum must be 22 and the maximum 32.3
“What we are experiencing this week is an extraordinary heat wave because it has some characteristics that differentiate it from a classic heat wave Fernandez explains. This extraordinary heat wave differs from others by the territorial expansion; high temperatures of over forty degrees were recorded from central Patagonia to northern Argentina, and this leaves only two provinces outside the heat wave that we are experiencing, so we could say that it affects practically the entire country, and also Paraguay, southern Brazil and Uruguay.” The SMN meteorologist warns that “It is not normal that there are 57 cities in the country that exceed 40 degrees”, as happened on Thursday the 13th. Another characteristic of this heat wave is the “persistence”, because it started more than a week ago and there are still “two or three days of extreme heat”.
Several factors combined fueled the extreme rise in temperatures. “Last week a mass of warm air arrived, as is normal at this time, and coincided with a high pressure center over the center and north of the country. High pressure centers produce an effect called ‘subsidence’: air descends from the middle and upper layers of the atmosphere towards the surface. Like all gases, when the air descends it warms up”, explains Fernández and adds another important detail: days with clear skies and no clouds at a time of year when solar radiation is very intense. “All this happened in a context of a fairly extreme drought in Argentina, where the soils contain little moisture. And a dry ground heats up much more than a wet ground.”, compares the meteorologist and specifies that “the center of pressure is moving very slowly” and that for this reason the wave lasted more than a week.
The SMN announces that the extreme heat that began in 2022 has an expiration date, to the relief of many. “In the central area of Argentina we are going to experience a gradual drop in temperatures between Saturday and Sunday, from south to north; but the notorious drop in temperature will begin to be felt as of Monday. We are still going to be very hot Saturday and Sunday. Only on Monday are we going to have a much colder mass of air, which is going to bring us much lower temperatures,” Fernández predicts and comments that the minimum temperatures will be between 15 and 20 degrees, with maximums that will range between 20 and 25 , “very cold for summer”, but points out that “it is normal to have sudden bursts of cold air” in the summer season.
Climatic disturbances on a planetary scale, as proposed by Naomi Klein in her book On fire (Paidós) “do not suppose a future threat, but a lived reality”. Since scientists and governments began meeting in 1988 to discuss the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thus reduce the climate crisis, global carbon dioxide emissions have intensified by more than 40%. And they keep growing. “The planet has warmed about 1°C since we started burning coal on an industrial scale, and average temperatures are on track to increase by as much as four times before this century ends; the last time there was as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as there is today, humans did not exist”, analiza Klein.
Carolina Vera, PhD in Atmospheric Sciences, assures that intense and persistent heat waves, which last several days, are not an uncommon phenomenon in the summer climate in our country. “75% of the heat waves that last more than five days are associated with a large-scale pattern, in which while in Argentina there are dry and very hot conditions, in the east of Brazil there are very rainy conditions that can give lead to floods, as is what is being seen now”, says Vera and reveals that research has also been carried out on the possible influence of climate change. “In a world with a warming of 1.5 degrees above normal values, these types of heat waves are more frequent and of more intense magnitudes. In this study that was done in Argentina, and also in different parts of the world, it is confirmed that the frequency of occurrence of this type of heat wave has accelerated five times”, emphasizes the Conicet researcher and professor at the UBA, a reference for the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC), which operates under the orbit of the UN.
“Global warming is increasing minimum temperatures in particular – Vera confirms -. One hopes that at night the cities and bodies cool down, that there are temperatures preferably below 24 degrees; but that is not happening. These hot nights, with temperatures above 25 degrees, are also confirmation of the human influence on climate change.” The doctor in Atmospheric Sciences launches a warning based on her research: “If climate change continues to intensify, if global warming continues, if we reach global warming of one and a half degrees in 2040, the frequency of these waves of intense heat will speed up eight times.”