La Niña Blamed For Weird Mexican Weather

from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 28 Oct 1999
By James Crombie

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The southeast of Mexico is drenched by devastating rains, but the north has not seen a drop in months; temperatures plummet near Mexico City, while the northwest is baking hot.

Freak weather conditions in Mexico are not symptoms of global warming but probably the result of the tail end of La Niña, the periodic cooling of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, according to a meteorologist.

''The La Niña situation that we were in last year and are in again this year probably produces a little more in the way of severe conditions in Mexico,'' Mike Palmerino, senior agricultural meteorologist at U.S.-based Weather Services Corp, told Reuters Wednesday.

Recent severe weather in the Gulf coast states of Veracruz and Tabasco triggered the most intense Mexican floods in 40 years, killing at least 400 people.

Areas of the Tabasco state capital Villahermosa, pounded by torrential rains since mid-September, are under six feet (two meters) of water, local officials say, and residents have got used to traveling home by boat or through waist-deep water.

In Puebla, west of Mexico City, entire mountain villages were buried by mudslides.

But just 250 miles (400 km) west, the central state of Zacatecas has not had rain for months and 690,000 acres (280,000 hectares) of northern farmland have been damaged by severe drought as temperatures hover close to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius).

''It's serious, most farmers have no crops,'' said Guillermo Santos, a grains and cattle farmer in Sombrerete, Zacatecas. He added that the drought was the worst he had seen since 1957.

Wheat miller Rafael Sanchez said grains output was down to around 30 percent of the average for Zacatecas.

Parts of the state have seen no rain since June, an official at the National Water Commission said.

''There's reasons to think that (drought in the north) could persist next year as well,'' said Palmerino.

In Toluca, 40 miles (65 km) west of the capital, civil protection authorities set up hostels for victims of a cold snap, according to government news agency Notimex. The temperature dropped to five degrees Fahrenheit (-15 C) and snow was expected at higher elevations.

Freak Weather Fluctuations

Palmerino, who dismissed suggestions that global warming was the cause of the freak weather fluctuations, said Mexico could experience periods of severe freezing this winter as a result of La Niña.

He said Mexico was also the victim of a recent trend in tropical areas toward longer lasting rainy seasons that culminated in very heavy showers.

Mexico's wet season typically begins in agricultural states south of the capital in June and lasts through September. This year, heavy rains that began in September continued to douse the country through October.

''In terms of the rainfall there has been a tendency recently in Mexico and other tropical areas for the rainy seasons to hang on longer and be much more intense than normal...and be delayed in getting underway,'' said Palmerino.

The meteorologist predicted that La Nina's impact would fade next year and that its opposing twin, El Nino -- a periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean -- was not anticipated to return, allowing Mexico's weather patterns to settle down.

''In the next few years we will probably see a relaxation toward a more normal situation.''

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