By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In a city normally known for its tropical climate and renowned beaches, Rio de Janeiro’s six million residents had to bundle up on Monday, June 13th, as a cold spell hit the south of Brazil. Despite being in the winter season, on Monday, Rio de Janeiro, as well as São Paulo, recorded unusually cold temperatures, the lowest either city had seen in over ten years.
Rio’s residents woke up to a chilly start on Monday morning. According to Rio’s Municipal Operations Center, at about 6AM the city recorded a temperature of 8.6 degrees Celsius (ºC) in Alto da Boa Vista, in Rio’s North Zone. This was the lowest temperature ever recorded in the city since the start of Sistema Alerta Rio (Rio Alert System), a government service which began transmitting real-time weather information in 2002.
The National Institute of Meteorology (Inmet), which also tracks weather conditions across the country indicated that temperatures throughout Monday and Tuesday would range between 10ºC and 21ºC. According to Inmet, a break in the cold spell could be expected on Wednesday (June 15th), with temperatures ranging from 13ºC to 25ºC, still considered lower than normal for this period.
In São Paulo, government officials put the city on high alert late Monday with temperatures plunging as low as 6.9ºC in the district of Capela do Socorro in the city’s south zone. According to São Paulo’s Emergency Management Center (CGE), by 9PM on Monday, the temperature in Praça da Sé, in the center of the city, was 10.2°C.
Travellers at São Paulo’s airports also felt the chill, with Congonhas Airport being the coldest, recording temperatures of 10 °C with a windchill of 5°C, and Guarulhos Airport a close second at 11ºC with a wind chill of 8°C. Finally, not to far behind, Campo de Marte Airport recorded 12ºC and a 5°C wind chill.
By Monday evening, the CGE forecast freezing overnight conditions heading into Tuesday (June 14th). By Tuesday morning, data indicated that at 3:30AM temperatures in some areas dropped below 0°C, which according to the CGE, is the lowest temperature in the city in twelve years.
As part of its high alert contingency plan, city officials had frantically tried to shelter as many homeless as possible on Monday in anticipation of the freezing temperatures. Despite gathering as many as ten thousand homeless off the city streets, officials reported on Tuesday that the cold had claimed the lives of at least five individuals, who succumbed to hypothermia.
Hortencio José dos Santos, one of São Paulo’s sixteen thousand homeless, told a government agency on Tuesday, that for many homeless, their choices are limited. “A person does not have conditions to be in a home or shelter for the night,” dos Santos said solemnly, “so the solution is to face the cold.”
Authorities have speculated that a positive aspect of this winter’s icy conditions is the decrease in the mosquito population which will greatly impact the Zika virus ahead of the 2016 Olympics. By the Games’ start in August, officials expect the number of Zika incidences, which have already dropped precipitously, to be almost non-existent.
Correction: The article has been corrected since it was originally published on June 14th to clarify São Paulo’s homeless population as sixteen thousand, not sixteen million.