6 Surreal Images Showing Rare Snowfall in Tropical Brazil

A man plays with snow at a farm in rural Sao Joaquim, Brazil, Thursday, July 29, 2021.
Photo: Mycchel Legnaghi (AP)

Snow has fallen in Brazil, an extremely rare event for the tropical country. Thanks to an intense cold snap, snow or freezing rain fell in at least 43 Brazilian cities on Wednesday and Thursday, according to weather service Climatempo.

South America has been buffeted in cold air ushered north from the Antarctic this week, resulting in some decided strange scenes across the continent. But none are more bizarre than those taking place in Brazil, parts of which haven’ seen snow in decades.

“I am 62 years old and had never seen the snow, you know? To see nature’s beauty is something indescribable,” a truck driver in Cambara do Sul, a municipality of Rio Grande do Sul state, told TV Globo network.

But while it’s certainly novel, the snow and attendant cold snap also had some serious consequences.

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Freak Tropical Snow

Snow covers a road in Sao Joaquim, Brazil, Thursday, July 29, 2021.
Photo: Mycchel Legnaghi (AP)

Snow isn’t unheard of in Brazil. In fact, in the High Plains in the southern part of the nation, it’s an annual occurrence. But this week, some regions that almost never see the white stuff were snowed in. In Bom Jesus, a municipality in the state of Piauí in the northeast part of the nation, snow fell on a landscape dotted with palm trees and dusty red cliffs that looks more desert-like than winter wonderland.

The intensity of this week’s snowfall, which piled up to one meter high in some places, was also a rare occurrence. These are the highest snowfall totals the nation has seen since a major blizzard in 1957.


What’s Behind The Unusual Cold Driving Brazil’s Snow

Ice covers trees at dawn during a cold snap in Sao Joaquim, Brazil, Wednesday, July 28, 2021.
Photo: Mycchel Legnaghi (AP)

The key ingredient for Brazil’s snow is a freak cold snap driven by air that traveled north from the Antarctic. The air normally trapped to the south was able to move northward thanks to a big zig in the jet stream, a fast-flowing streak of air that normally keeps colder air bottled up closer to the poles. But a breakdown in it allowed for cold air to leak further north than usual.

“Antarctica has been very cold recently and there have been strong cold shots across the Southern hemisphere over the last few weeks,” meteorologist Scott Duncan said in a Twitter direct message.


The Cold Isn’t Isolated to Brazil, Either

A temperature anomaly map showing cold air rushing into South America from Antarctica.
Image: Scott Duncan

Other regions, including South Africa and Australia, have seen similar cold shocks due to this phenomenon in recent weeks, but none as intense as the one currently hitting South America.

“The cold was swift and could maintain its intensity far north through South America, perfect setup for delivering unusually intense cold widely into South America. Some near-tropical locations are recording frost,” said Duncan.

The full graphic he created shows the blast of cold air over time.


The Impacts On Farmers and Others Could Be Severe

Ice covers trees during a cold snap in Sao Joaquim, Brazil, Wednesday, July 28, 2021.
Photo: Mycchel Legnaghi (AP)

While some were delighted by the rare opportunity to build snowmen and marvel at the white flakes, the cold snap may also come with harsh consequences for farmers because it could destroy key export crops. Earlier this week, coffee prices soared to a six-year high over fears that Brazilian coffee plants were under threat. Frost also fell over sugarcane fields in the state of São Paulo, which is responsible for over 60% of Brazil’s sugar output. And oranges, another crucial export, are also at risk.

Even before the cold, farmers and water systems in parts of the country are also under stress from drought. For some areas, it’s the worst drought in 90 years and brings back shades a 2014 drought that nearly caused São Paulo’s main reservoirs to run dry.


The Chill Isn’t Over Yet Either

Unhoused people light a fire to stay warm during a cold night in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, July 29, 2021.
Photo: Marcelo Chello (AP)

Cold air will continue plaguing Brazil into the weekend. Temperatures are expected to continue to fall in the coming days and more snow could be on the way, according to Inmet, Brazil’s meteorological institute.

It adds to the series of bizarre weather events around the world in recent weeks, including a rash of wildfires from Siberia to California and ripples of extreme heat across the northern hemisphere. As always, one cold snap doesn’t disprove the planet is overheating (and in fact, northern hemisphere cold snaps could become more common because of the climate crisis).


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