La Niña changes Cuenca’s weather from dry and sunny to wet and damp; storms force airport closures

Feb 18, 2011

Unseasonably heavy rains in the Andes have caused airport closures in Quito and Cuenca and triggered landslides on dozens of mountain roads. Ecuador’s National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (INAMHI) blamed conditions on the La Niña effect in the Pacific Ocean and warned that there's more rain to come.

As bad as the rainfall has been in the mountains, INAMHI says that it has been worse on the coast. The coastal provinces of Manabi, Guayas, Esmeraldas, Santo Domingo and El Oro have all seen flooding and are expecting more. INAMHI meteorologist Juan Palacios says that conditions in the Pacific are part of the same system that caused disastrous floods in Australia in December and January.

Heavy rains earlier this week caused airport closures in Quito and Cuenca. On Sunday and Monday Quito received more than three inches of rain while Cuenca recorded almost four.

“This is highly unusual, especially for Cuenca,” Palacios said. “In the southern Andes, this is the warmest, driest time of year and you rarely see storms dropping more than 10 or 15 centimeters of rain this time of year.”

Palacios predicted a pattern in Quito and Cuenca of rainy morning skies giving way to some mid-day sunshine, returning to stormy conditions in the afternoon.

“What we are seeing is a general trend and we’re not sure when it will break. lmbabura, Carchi and Pichincha provinces are seeing the same sort of wet weather as Azuay and Loja provinces in the south.

“There is a wet mass coming in from the Amazon region to the Andes, and this is being intensified by moisture dropping down from Colombia,” says Palacios. He predicted that heavy rains will spread into Peru, Brazil and Bolivia in coming weeks.