After 47 consecutive days of rain the city of São Paulo, in Southeast Brazil, had its first dry day this Monday. Rains in São Paulo have already killed at least 74 people since December. Brazilian are now asking themselves: “What if this turns out to be normal – for next year and a few more years, even a decade or so?
El Niño stays put off the Pacific coast of South America warming up the ocean so more moisture than normal is pumped into the Amazon where it flows down into the Southern and Southeastern regions of Brazil and collides with warmer than usual air from the Atlantic Ocean.
What happens? Well, if temperatures are also above normal in the city of São Paulo itself, you get the most precipitation in over 60 years. Suffice it to say that normal January rainfall in São Paulo is around 240 mm. This January the city has been drenched with almost 450 mm.
In fact, rainfall over a period of the last six months (the dry season!) has been at least 20% above normal – every month! Of course, a lot of that water evaporates to come back as more rain.
Meteorologists say lightning in January, at 15,000 or so lightning incidents, is double normal. Civil Defense says more than 100 trees have been knocked over, not to mention thousands of branches that have been torn loose – some of them big enough to block a street or destroy a car, or both.
And there are financial costs. People have problems getting around. And they get scared. The population has begun to suffer what is being called afternoon-anxiety syndrome. As the rain usually comes in the afternoon, the inhabitants of São Paulo start getting jittery and nervous after lunch.
They worry about being able to get home. With the rains, there is always a chance that you will not be able to go where you want to go and the chance that if you do go somewhere you might not be able to get back.
Soraia Maria Chantre Lucci is a massager. “I can’t leave my home and my clients can’t make it here. Today I had to cancel four sessions – I lost more than 300 reais (US$ 161),” she says.
Manuel Vieira Marques, a personal trainer, says he could not get out of his neighborhood because of the flooding. He lost 400 reais (US$ 214) in fees and he says his father, a businessman, had the same problem – could not visit clients.
The Ipiranga Museum was closed for two days last week. Part of the zoo got flooded, but biologist Tania Dubovicky, who works there, says no animals were harmed. The rhinos even had a good time when their tank filled up more than normal. Because of the danger the animals are routinely taken to a safe place every afternoon.
“We have a standard operation – you know, you can’t rush some of these animals. But we have been moving many of the animals earlier than usual because the rains are anything but usual. We have to be alert,” she explained.
South America’s biggest produce warehouse and distribution center, the Ceagesp, is in São Paulo and it has been flooded twice so far. There are plans to simply raise Ceagesp above the flood water level.
But Ceagesp consists of 13 huge retail center buildings and warehouses. Raising all those floors would come in at around 100 million reais (US$ 54 million). There are costs.
In the state of São Paulo Civil Defense reports that 155 cities have had problems with the rain since the beginning of the year, there are three cities in a “state of calamity,” the number of people who have died in rain-related accidents is over 70, the homeless are 5,300 and the dislocated over 22,000.
In the capital, power has been down in as many as 17 neighborhoods at the same time. The electricity company (AES Eletropaulo) says it has 2,000 men working around the clock. On Thursday, Congonhas Airport was closed for an hour due to rain.
At any given moment there are numerous points in the city that are just flooded, while others are denominated “unpassable.” The fire department gets calls for help – a dozen or more each day. And on top of all this there are serious problems with garbage collection and the threat of disease.