Unusual snowfall in the sierra affects travel

Sep 20, 2016 | 3 comments

Snow in the Cajas Mountains, west of Cuenca.

Snow in the Cajas Mountains, west of Cuenca.

Snowfall was reported Monday along several highways connecting Ecuador’s central valley to the Amazon region. Traffic was slowed on highways east of Ambato and Quito and at least one accident was blamed on the unusual weather.

The National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology said the snowfall was the result of a cold air mass from the southeast colliding with a blanket of thick clouds covering the sierra from Quito to Cuenca. “Although snow is uncommon at elevations below 3,000 meters (9,800 feet), it is not unknown,” the institute said. “Snow in the higher elevations is most likely in August and September due to cooler temperatures, so this is a seasonal phenomenon.”

In recent weeks, heavy snowfall has been reported at higher elevations throughout the Ecuadorian Andes, including in the Cajas Mountains west of Cuenca. The snowline on the country’s two highest mountains, Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, dropped by about 600 meters (2,000 feet) in recent days and a weather station in the Cajas mountains recorded more than 14 inches of snow last week.

The meteorology institute said that the cloud mass over the sierra would begin to break up on Tuesday but said rain is expected in much of the region.

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