Record rainfall has turned the Atacama, known as the driest place on Earth, into a flowering desert, according to reports.
The Chilean region is known as a barren wasteland, having experienced a period of 173 months without a single drop of rain between October 1903 and January 1918.
This all changes however under the influence of El Niño, a band of warm ocean water which develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific.
Rainfall becomes much heavier across South America, and since the desert is located just east of these warming waters, weather patterns in the area are deeply perturbed.
In fact, the Atacama Desert has experienced unusually heavy rainstorms this year due to a stronger than usual El Niño, especially in March and August. For example, in March some areas reported 0.96 inches of rain in one day, the equivalent of 14 years of rainfall.
Overall, the heavy storms have surpassed levels recorded in the last 20 years, and have resulted in 28 fatalities due to mudslides and flooding, as the Copiapo River burst its banks . Moreover, thousands of other people lost their homes following this widespread destruction, according to international news agency EFE.
Now, it appears that extreme weather conditions have subsided, and the beautiful pink, white and mauve-colored flowers that have emerged across the desert are a sight for sore eyes.
Wasteland has now transformed into wonderland, and little is left now to indicate the turbulent times which this area has had to face in recent months.
“The Atacama region was punished, but also blessed by the phenomenon of a flourishing desert, something that happens only after the rains, this time brought about by the El Niño and climate change”, explained Daniel Diaz, National Tourism Service director in Atacama.
It’s for the first time in the country’s history that the land located north of Santiago de Chile has been covered twice in a year in blooming mallows. Also, it appears that the extent of this floral display is unprecedented.
Normally, these herbaceous plants, whose scientific name is Malva, tend to emerge once every 5 to 7 years, during years when El Niño manifests itself.
However, researchers believe that the current flower parade is actually “the most spectacular blossoming of the past 18 years”, probably because the warming effect is one of the most significant on record.
According to estimations, approximately 20,000 tourists will be visiting Atacama Desert in the following weeks, in order to take part in the dazzling spectacle of beauty and color. It is expected that the unusual flowering phenomenon, known as “desierto florido” will persist throughout November.
Tour guide Rodrigo Arcos urges travelers to make trips to this area during this period, because the ecosystem is thriving now, and the flora can easily be identified and cataloged.
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