Rains devastate South America

Panama is latest of countries in region to be hit by floods this week after Colombia and Venezuela.

Funeral services were held for victims of the floods in Colombia on Tuesday [AFP]

This year’s rains have been devastating for some parts of the Americas.

In the past week, both Venezuela and Colombia have been badly hit. In Venezuela, the rains struck the north coast of the country, with a state of emergency declared in Vargas and Miranda, as well as the capital Caracas. 32 people lost their lives and thousands are homeless.

In Colombia, the flooding started almost as soon as the wet season did, right back in March. Since then the flooding has been steadily getting worse. It is estimated that 1.3 million Colombians have now been affected.

Now it is Panama that is making the headlines. Meteorologists in the country are reporting that this year’s rains have been the heaviest ever recorded.

The flooding is so severe that the Panama Canal has had to close. The 48-mile canal is a key shipping route, linking the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean.

It is only the third time that this has ever happened, and the first time due to bad weather.

Pacific surface temperature

But it is not only the region around the Panama Canal which has been affected by the rains. Further east, water in the Bayano dam also reached dangerously high levels. On Tuesday, AES Panama, a power generation company, who also own the dam, had to open the gates to release some of the water.

The rains this year have been invigorated by the La Nina phenomenon. It is a natural set up of the waters in the Pacific, and is the lesser-known sister of El Nino.

During an El Nino year, the warmer waters of the Pacific head east towards South America, but in a La Nino event, the warmer waters push further west than usual, so more cold water surfaces across the Pacific.

This small change in surface temperatures of the Pacific has global impacts on our weather, including intensifying the rains across this region.

December is the end of the wet season in the region, but the rain has yet to finish. Over the next few days there will continue to be heavy showers over Venezuela and Colombia, but the real concern is for Panama, where heavy, persistent rain is forecast for the next few days at least.

Source: Al Jazeera

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