El Niño has shown that it does have a softer side, as the driest place on Earth is now a floral sea of colorful wildflowers in direct consequence of its otherwise devastating effects.
- The Atacama Desert sees an average of 0.07 inches of rain per year
- In 2015, a rain in March saw to 0.94 inches of it just in one day
- It’s the heaviest rainfall in the last 20 years, prompted by El Niño
- The spectacular sight attracted many tourists
It’s a beautiful phenomenon that has been enhanced many times over. While El Niño strikes between 2 to 7 years and causes devastating effects in the Pacific Ocean, this time, it has given us a slight consolation prize. The once arid landscape of the Atacama Desert, in northern Chile, is now a stunning sight to behold.
Called “the driest place on Earth”, the desert commonly tops 104oFahrenheit (40oCelsius) at this time of the year. The arid lands have an average of 0.07 inches of rain per year. Due to its geographic position and winds, they are essentially a high-pressure trap that make sure the low-pressure storms stay away.
However, some clouds managed to pull through the natural barriers, resulting in heavy rainfall in March of this year. Parts of the Atacama Desert received up to 0.94 inches of rain in just a day. That means 14 years worth of storms packed into 24 hours. At the time, this wasn’t good news.
The ecosystem was essentially broken away from its routine, the Copiapo River flooded, and led to the tragic deaths of over 30 people. It was named a natural disaster, the heaviest rainfall in the last 20 years, and said to have had devastating consequences on the usually arid landscape.
However, the extra moisture left some beautiful effects in its wakes. Life bloomed from the dry lands.
Now, the Atacama desert is engulfed in a sea of colorful wildflowers, ranging from the violet Chilean bellflowers, to red “lion claws”, and to the yellow Rhodophiala rhodolirion. What was once a pale and barren land is now streaked with multiple colors of exceptional beauty. Their sight is not uncommon, as they usually appear every 5-7 years, but not in such massive numbers.
The heavy rains prompted by El Niño woke up the dormant bulbs and rhizomes in the dry grounds. According to Raul Cespedes, who is a desert specialist at the local university, there is a “latent ecosystem just waiting for the right conditions”. This year seems to have been the one where they met their demands.
Beyond the negative impacts of El Niño and the tragic consequences of rainfall, it seems nature has left a consolation behind. The stunning result will also lead to a boost in tourism, as it has been until now. So far, the regions had a 40% increase in tourism, and 20,000 more people are expected to visit in November. There has been an apparent silver lining to the unexpected clouds.
Image source: twitter.com