In his 2009 mockumentary “Cold Tropics,” Brazilian filmmaker Kleber Mendonca Filho depicted the inconceivable. Recife, a tropical city in the north-east of Brazil, is suddenly struck by a cold wave that causes temperatures to plummet to unimaginable levels. Residents are compelled to adapt, penguins make an improbable appearance, and the scientific community is shocked.
This week, in southern Brazil, Mendonca’s fictional world became a reality.
While temperatures continue to hover around 28 degrees Celsius in Recife and other northeastern cities, thermometers in southern states have reached record lows.
On Thursday, the Federal District, just south of Brasilia, recorded its coldest temperature ever at 1.4 degrees Celsius, and on Wednesday morning, Sao Paulo set a new record with 6.6 degrees, temperatures not seen in Latin America’s largest city since 1990.
At 4.4 degrees, Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais, recorded its lowest temperature in 43 years. And further south in Santa Catarina, after several days of temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, tourists and locals flocked outside to witness rare snowfall. Since 1995, Santa Catarina has not seen snow.
It is not uncommon for cold fronts to arrive in the south during this time of year, but it is uncommon for these temperature drops to arrive with such force and extend as far north as they have now.
Meteorologists assert that the cold wave is a result of the subtropical storm Yakecan, initially referred to as a cyclone, which has impacted southern Brazil and Uruguay.
“In autumn, it is normal for polar air masses from the Antarctic region to move closer to the equator, causing temperatures to drop,” a Brazilian meteorologist told FRANCE 24. “However, in conjunction with the Yakecan storm, which is relatively immobile due to its unusual atmospheric configuration, a sort of barrier has been created, trapping large quantities of cold air within the nation.”
Climate change and global warming also contribute to this singular phenomenon. In the same manner that polar air masses move south towards the equator, warm winds move northward towards the poles. However, as global temperatures rise, these movements are no longer in equilibrium.
“The temperature difference between the tropics and the poles is what allows air masses to move,” meteorologist Giovanni Dolif told Brazilian television station Globo. “However, Antarctica’s temperatures are not rising as rapidly as those in the tropics, such as Brazil. As a result, the movement of these masses intensifies in an attempt to compensate for the imbalance, resulting in stronger winds, storms, and cold waves in locations where they did not previously exist.”