29 January 2007

Hail in Mendoza

Latest news of Argentina include a weather gone absolutely crazy. In the northwest of Argentina (provinces of Salta and Tucumán) it's been raining an awful lot, and the Salado River downstream in Santiago del Estero broke a dam and overflowed its banks, prompting many to evacuate (the Salado is a very long river — it starts up there and ends 1,500 km later in the Paraná River, near Santa Fe City, which it flooded in 2003). Last Wednesday 170 mm of rain fell in Reconquista (northern Santa Fe), flooding several parts of the city, its surroundings and many neighbouring towns in a matter of hours.

Last Friday, the city of San Rafael in Mendoza (a hot, sunny paradise when I was there two weeks ago) was hit by a hailstorm. Anti-hail nets protecting the vine crops were useless against the reportedly fist-sized hailstones that fell for about 25 minutes, and many saw their crops partly or completely ruined less than a month before the National Festival of the Vendimia (grape harvest). This, plus the damages in the city, may add up to about 50–60 million pesos (US$17–20 million). (Incidentally, if you want to know more about Mendoza's hail and wine, try Argenvino. I just discovered it — I was linked from it without my knowledge!)

(The above is a vineyard besides the Valentín Bianchi winery, not far from San Rafael City, as it was before the storm... I presume it doesn't look like that now.)

Deadly hail seems to have become more common everywhere lately (as you'll remember if you were in Rosario during November's hail hell). San Rafael had been hit already on 31 December 2006 and I seem to remember the area of Mendoza City had had its share a few days before my trip in early January.

Nobody died in San Rafael then or now, fortunately, but the mendocinos are clearly concerned to the point of having developed their own anti-hail rockets. The scientists of the Civil Institute of Space Technology created this rocket to replace the Russian-made devices that were in use before the devaluation of the Argentine peso made them unaffordable — and which were not very useful anyway, since they were designed to target clouds at a height of 8 km, while the typical clouds in Cuyo are above 15 km.

PS: As of 2 Feb, the national government has pledged to help Mendoza with AR$25 million, to be used to repair infrastructure and rebuild homes. Besides the immediate damage, the storm destroyed the fertility of 4,000 hectares of soil, which will be unproductive for 3 years.

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