A rare weather pattern called ‘niño costero’, or coastal child, is the reason some areas of Ecuador and Peru are receiving record amounts of rain, weather experts say. The phenomenon is characterized by higher than normal coastal water temperatures, which are exceeding normal levels by as much as five degrees celsius this year.
Coastal areas have been hardest hit, especially in northern Peru, but rainfall amounts and the severity of storms is also wreaking havoc in the sierra region of both Peru and Ecuador. Most of the 143 deaths — 121 of them in Peru — are attributed to flooding have occurred in coast regions.
“This is very atypical weather,” says Tatiana Merino of Ecuador’s National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology. “It is not an El Niño, as some sources are reporting. It is the result of very warm water very close to the shoreline whereas an El Niño is a temperature inversion that occurs over a large are of the ocean.” She added that record-setting rainfall is also the result of humid air masses moving over the Andes from the Amazon regions of Brazil and Peru.
Merino says she cannot predict how much longer the weather pattern will continue. “Under seasonal patterns, we would see rain tapering off within a few weeks but this is not a normal year.”
In Ecuador, heavy weather continued to pound the coast and sierra on Tuesday. Violent thunderstorms, many of them dropping record amounts of hail, occurred throughout the mountain region. One storm near Riobamba dropped an estimated six inches of large hail, causing a number of accidents on the Pan American highway.
In Cuenca, afternoon thunderstorms caused street flooding in several areas and pushed the Rio Tarqui over its banks south of the city. According to Merino, morning sunshine is making the storms stronger. “Without the sunshine creating greater heat, the storms would not be as intense,” she says. “Until the weather changes, we should pray for more cloud cover and less sun.”