Expert warns Yucatan is heading towards the most intense drought in 34 years

Juan Vázquez Montalvo

Immersed in the contingency for the Covid-19 coronavirus, Yucatan is heading towards the most intense drought in the last 34 years.

According to the weather forecast models, this year’s critical situation is comparable to that experienced in 1986 and 1962 in most of the Yucatan Peninsula.

There is even statistical evidence that this year’s drought has moved ahead and its effects are being felt since February.

Drought could bring devastating consequences
Its main consequences could be reflected in the agriculture, in the extraction of water for human consumption and agricultural use and, if insufficient precautions are taken, in public health.

Fires are an additional problem that is already occurring in various parts of the State.

More risks for Merida
“The theory of climate change tells us that extraordinary meteorological events will occur in large urban areas. Therefore, Mérida will be the city where the hot environment and high temperatures throughout the southeast of Mexico will suffer the most ”, warns Juan Vázquez Montalvo, meteorologist of the Institutional Committee for the Attention of Extreme Meteorological Phenomena of the Autonomous University of Yucatan (UADY).

“Everything indicates that the 2020 dry season will be one of the most severe since 1986,” he stresses,

The situation is of utmost importance considering that this year’s dry season ties in with that of 2019 and part of that of 2018, when rainfall levels were well below average.

Water at minimum levels
In other words, practically three years of low rainfall are merging and, according to the Vázquez Montalvo, groundwater scales are already falling to minimum levels.

“What is causing this? We do not know. The explanation may be a cycle that is repeating itself, because the atmosphere lives by cycles, “says the specialist, who for more than two decades – until his retirement – was head of the Laboratory of Hydraulics and Hydrology and responsible for the Meteorological Center of the UADY’s School of Engineering.

“It could be the dry, descending air that is dominating and the high pressures that came this year long before time, arriving at the end of January, when they normally do so in late March or early April, and these conditions have brought the drought ahead of time,” he continued.

The temperatures in the rest of March will be from 37 to 39 degrees Celsius, according to weather forecast models.

The meteorologist mentioned some of the signs of Mother Nature announcing the situation that is coming: For example, the Maculís trees bloomed in February, not in March as is common, and the Ceiba trees also bore fruit prematurely this year.

“Ants have been hassling in the same way, they are bringing a lot of food to their nests,” he says. “It is an omen that a very severe drought is coming and they are stocking up,” the specialist said.

The hydrometeorological consultant notes that the 2020 drought is of particular concern to experts because it is the second year in a row that rains from January to March have been well below average.

El Niño” is to blame for the 2019 drought
“Last year, there was an atypical drought caused by El Niño event, a dry, descending wind that covered the entire area of ​​the Yucatan Peninsula and part of Central America.”

“That same air lasted until the summer and prevented cyclones from reaching the area. Hurricanes were deviated and that is why Yucatan was saved from the affectation of a tropical cyclone. In fact, not even one came close. There was no warning and not only in the Yucatan Peninsula but also in Central America,” he said

Effects of an atypical drought
“Although the conditions prevented the arrival of cyclones, it gave way to an atypical drought that was much stronger in Quintana Roo, in the northeast, east and southeast of Yucatan and in the east of Campeche”, Vázquez Montalvo continued.

“The values ​​of the rains were well below the average, even in the rainy season. In Quintana Roo, lagoons were reported to have dried up and water levels dropped. Cozumel, which lives on its own aquifer, had problems with the quality of the water… It began to resent the intrusion of chlorides.” he added.

“Difficult conditions prevailed in the rest of the Peninsula, as crops were lost in Yucatan and Campeche and groundwater levels fell considerably”, he said.

Statistical count
The UADY specialist also formulates the following concepts:

–To tie with last year and part of 2018, the 2020 drought, which started practically since February, aims to be one of the strongest in history.

–If we make a count of the most severe dry seasons we will see that the previous ones were 2012, 2009, 2000, 1996, 1986 and 1962.

Absent rains
–The most significant, due to their long periods, were those of 1986 and 1962. Why were they significant? Because the rains were practically absent throughout the year and the accumulated rainfall was very low.

–The situation now exceeds that of 2012, 2009, 2000 and 1996, in terms of the amount of water that has not fallen. We have levels similar to those of 1986.

Winters that feel like summer
–As of 2015, winters in Yucatan have felt more like summer. The hot and dry days have dominated more than the cold and rainy ones.

-That situation of winters that feel like summer, has worsened from 2018 and 2019. In addition to hot days, the prevailing wind is from the Southeast instead of the Northeast, which is cooler.

Two similar years
–The characteristics of the dry season today are similar to those of 1986. Back then a drought that started in 1985, extended to 1987, but fortunately it did not last long that year because the rains fell in May.

–In 1986 it practically did not rain; maybe a little in the first week of May, but then it stopped raining. There was only sporadic rainfall, harvests were not achieved, and groundwater levels dropped significantly.

–At that time, the Hydrology coordination of the UADY School of Engineering was carrying out a geohydrological study project for the Mérida I drinking water plant. We detected that the water levels in the water treatment plant had dropped too low and were about to reach the bottom of the suction cone. Fortunately, the latter did not happen.

Waterless wells and waterwheels
–We did a check in the surroundings of the area and found dry water wheels and wells that also dried up or had minimal levels of water.

–In the city of Mérida, the wells also had significant drops in water level. We are talking about ten or five centimeters of sheet of water. That is to say, the bells fell practically to a minimum.

Rare phenomena
–The one in 1986 was a great drought that had not occurred again. Others came, such as those of 1996 and 2000, but the situation recovered with the rains that followed.

  • In 1962 there was also a rare phenomenon of this type. At that time, we did not have a potable water system and the population supplied itself from wells or stored rainwater in large water tanks. In other parts of the state they also obtained water from the cenotes.

–What really happened in 1962? The drought began to be felt in 1961 and worsened in 1962. The wells began to dry up in Merida and the rest of the State.

Record temperature
–The situation was critical for prolonged periods of high temperatures, not for the values ​​themselves, which have been higher in other cycles.

–For example, the highest record in Merida is from April 2015, when 43.6 degrees Celsius were reached.

–In all Yucatan, the record is 47 degrees Celsius in May 2005, in San Diego Buenavista, Tekax.

–Other high temperatures in Mérida were recorded on April 30, 1971, April 23, 1991, and April 8 and 17, 1998. In all those cases the thermometers reeached 43.1 degrees Celsius.

Several days come with “spikes”
–2015 had a very long hot period with temperatures of 38 to 40 degrees. That also happened in 2018 and 2019 and everything points to the same thing happening in 2020, from April, if not from the second half of March. The forecasts indicate that at the end of March there will be temperatures of 37 to 39 degrees.

  • Therefore, this drought seems to be one of the strongest in recent years.

Solar radiation
–As there is high pressure, the sky will be clear and cloudless. This will bring in more solar radiation and we will feel it later this week, when 38 to 39 degrees Celsius temperatures are forecast. And the worst of the heat is yet to come during the months of April and May, historically the hottest.

–It must be emphasized that the cold fronts have not ended. They can still come, but if they do, they will only bring a cooling of the temperature, but no rain.

The Yucatan Times
Newsroom


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