Climatologist and drought in Patagonia: “Climate change in this region is expressed through extreme temperature events”

This month, for the first time, drought was declared in the Magallanes region. In this context, an agricultural emergency zone has been decreed and the Government will provide resources to agricultural producers and breeders for the distribution of water.

An analysis by the Center for Climate and Resilience Science (CR)2 reveals that between the beginning of 2021 and mid-April, the El Tepual meteorological station in Puerto Montt (managed by the Chilean Meteorological Directorate) records a precipitation accumulation of 117 mm, only a third of the historical average for this period.

Other stations in the Los Lagos region and in the northern part of Aysén show similar deficits (40-70%), thus configuring one of the driest summers that this region has known in the last 50 years.

The drought has also affected human consumption. For example, south of Puerto Williams is the town of Puerto Toro, which does not have a potable water system and is supplied with water that falls from the snow through a collection system. And because it didn’t rain in November, we had to carry water by barge, by tanker truck and through the Navy in December, according to climatologist Nicolás Butorovic, of the Patagonian Institute of the University of Magallanes.

Scientist Nicolas Butorovic.

irregular drought

Analyzing the subject, it must be emphasized that the Magallanes Region has an area of ​​132,033 square km and is the largest in all of Chile. This makes it difficult to cover it in meteorological terms with the seasons, according to Butorovic.

“A great effort has been made by the General Directorate of Water and the Chilean Meteorological Directorate, with more than 120 stations in the region. And the other thing, the region covers about 5 degrees of latitude, if we do it from the Aysén border to Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in Chile, gives us almost a length of 555, almost 600 km. It’s like going from Santiago to Concepción, I think it’s 700,” he specifies.

From a climatic point of view, the specialist points out that the region is divided into five large zones and that the drought has mainly affected the northern part of Tierra del Fuego.

Tierra del Fuego, in turn, is divided into three zones: north zone, central zone and south zone.

“The southern area does not have rainfall problems, the central area is very marginally exceeded, which was 5 or 6 mm in the city of Porvenir, and the northern area, in Tierra del Fuego, has a rainfall deficit. Also the area from San Gregorio, Laguna Blanca, Palenque, Villa Tehuelche, which is the central area of ​​Magallanes region, Villa Tehuelche is about 5 km from Punta Arenas, Punta Arenas city is also experiencing a drought and Puerto Natales, which is Última Esperanza also presents a decrease in rainfall, the municipality of Cerro Castillo where Torres del Paine is located,” he explains.

Indeed, the same thing is replicated in Torres del Paine, whose park itself has about 15 weather stations, and in which there are about twelve different microclimates. In some it has a rainfall surplus, in others it has a rainfall deficit, Butorovic says.


Consulted on the causes, it indicates that the rainfall in what is Patagonia, Magallanes region, is well circumscribed in terms of high rainfall in the autumn and winter months, and decreases significantly and statistically in what is spring and summer.

“Unfortunately this autumn and this winter in those months the rainfall was very low. Only the month of July presented a small surplus of 5mm and it was the month that snowed the most in Punta Arenas, which was 23cm We hadn’t had that snow since last year 2015, which was about 32cm, and the next you said, how much does it snow in Punta Arenas?, and in Punta Arenas there was an average of 10cm and 8 days of snow, talking about a winter of 90. , of the 12 months of the year, only one had a surplus, which was July, and the other 11 had a deficit,” he indicates.

As for the driest months, and which includes the three main cities which are Punta Arenas, Porvenir and Puerto Natales, they were September, October, November and December, in some with quantities of 8mm, others 12, i.e. really scarce.

“Why was this? Because the frontal systems, i.e. the rain, was diverted by blocking high-pressure systems, which come from the Atlantic, which are 500 km in diameter in Patagonia, and are diverted to the central area , and when I’m talking about the central area I’m talking about Puerto Montt up, and that’s why you in Santiago and another area, Valdivia, Concepción or Puerto Montt, just like the Fourth Region, again you had rainfall like not it had been 10. So this rain came towards Patagonia and was diverted northwards by these block systems which were repeated a lot during the winter and especially the autumn”.

Was this drought predicted?

“There has been a downward trend since 2016, for example, in 2015 we had a rain of 750 mm, compared to what it rained in Punta Arenas last year, double, now it rained less. But after year 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021, it fell to normal levels 514, 510, 490, so it’s a downward trend, and it happened this year.As a climatologist, I expected it but not so drastic I could tell you that it could reach 450 mm, 420 but not 354.9”, he replies.


As for the consequences of this drought, he specifies that they generally affect livestock, “because here in the region, as you know, sheep, sheep, cattle and cattle are very strong, there are herds in all provinces, perhaps more in Tierra of Fire from the surface”.

“They are affected by the systems that the grass didn’t grow, they had the wintering grounds, they have to consume them now because not enough grass grew, the alfalfa to feed the sheep. And the other thing, also the shortage of water in the wells natural water troughs for the sheep, and generally there the farmer resorts to building wells at his own expense, which however has a high cost, between 15 and 18 million per well, to get water in his fields”. comment .

The other thing is horticulture: “although here in Punta Arenas it is at a lower level, but in Puerto Natales there are many cultivation systems, some fruits or vegetables, which mainly affect water scarcity and the development of these crops Obviously the sale of these products, the same as the sale of lamb and beef and the quality of the wool”.


As to how the phenomenon will continue, the scientist is reluctant to make predictions.

“I can’t make much predictions for next year. If you look at the precipitation series from the year 70 onwards, even if you put them together with Los Salesianos, 1887, the precipitation has an increasing trend, and in fact when it was around For example, in 1990 you said, hey, what’s the precipitation in Punta Arenas? It was 432 mm, but starting in 1990 or 1991, it started to go up rapidly. So an analysis I did in 2015, we had that the precipitation they were already at 514, they had risen by almost 90 mm, if we round up, this means that scientifically we have passed, that in Punta Arenas, the delimited limits of the city, we have gone from having a trans-Andean steppe climate to a degeneration steppe. we have to analyze it from another urban point of view, from plant species, etc.” she says.

According to the scientist, “climate change in this region is expressed through extreme temperature events”.

“We’ve had some heat waves, for example, in recent years, and also extreme rainfall environments. Sorry for the redundancy, now we’re talking about low rainfall, but the Las Minas River, for example, flooded in 1990, it rained 52 mm It’s been more or less 20 years, in March 2012 it overflowed again, it rained 90mm, but the same December 2012 it was 80mm and it was also about to overflow, so we have another extreme event there,” he concludes.

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