Brazil experiences an unusual winter heat wave

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It is still winter in the southern hemisphere, but Brazil is registering record high temperatures and dry weather in much of its territory.

According to the National Institute of Meteorology, the unusual heat wave affected 19 of the country's 26 states on Thursday, as well as the capital, Brasilia, and brought with it low humidity.

Large numbers of people flocked to many of the country's most famous beaches, such as Copacabana, in Rio de Janeiro.

Four state capitals recorded the hottest temperatures of the year on Wednesday. In Cuiabá, in the center-west of Brazil, the maximum reached 41.8 degrees Celsius (107.2 °Fahrenheit).

The inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the two most populous cities in Brazil, were also affected by the heat wave. In Rio, temperatures reached 38.7 °C (101.7 °F) on Thursday, the second hottest day in the city in 2023.

Authorities said that in the northeastern states of Bahia and Piauí, air humidity dropped below 20%, and the government advised people to avoid physical activities and stay indoors during the hottest hours of the day.

Last month, Brazil experienced its hottest July since official measurements began in 1961, with an average temperature of 23°C (73.4°F).

Climatologist José Marengo, with the National Center for Disaster Monitoring, said the warmer days during winter are typically caused by a high-pressure anomaly that forms a dome over a strip of states.

“With clear skies and plenty of sun, the ground heats up, starting a process that leads to the formation of a bubble of warm air that prevents moisture from entering,” he told The Associated Press.

Climate change and the El Niño phenomenon likely amplified the higher temperatures and drier weather conditions, according to Renata Libonati, a researcher at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

According to Marengo, the current hot days of the Brazilian winter have less impact on the population than the heat waves registered in Europe because Brazilian cities are more accustomed to tropical temperatures.

He added that time will tell if what is happening this week is really a heat wave, since it is likely to be interrupted by the arrival of a cold wave in a few days.

On the TV Globo news network, smiling reporters interviewed bathers from Rio de Janeiro.

“Media coverage doesn't always help gauge the crisis,” said Claudio Angelo of the Climate Observatory, a network of environmental and social groups. The silver lining, if there is one, he says, is that now at least the reporting has started to talk about climate change.

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