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Diverting the Main Stream

Buenos Aires Waterspout (Water Tornado) Was No Surprise

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Earlier this month, two waterspouts were formed over the River Plate (Río de la Plata) discomfortingly close to the capital city of Argentina, Buenos Aires, in the suburban sprawl surrounding the capital known as Gran Buenos Aires. The storm which caused these tornado-like formations flooded large parts of the city. While this is the “rainy season”, this is one of many recent local weather anomalies, and anomalous extreme weather seems to be becoming commonplace worldwide.

 I’m originally from Kansas. If you’re from Kansas, you know that living in tornado alley means having to learn the basics on how they form and what warning signs to look for. I don’t know anyone from Kansas who doesn’t have their own colorful description of the tornado sky. A couple of years ago, no one in Buenos Aires could remember a hailstorm. Small, infrequent hailstorms seem to have happened in recorded history, but it was an extremely rare occurrence.

In July, 2006 I stood on my balcony and looked up at a familiar Kansas tornado sky. The sickly yellow-green glow and that strange feeling that’s hard to describe but has something to do with atmospheric pressure and feeling powerlessly small made me immediately start thinking where in the apartment building I could take cover. It was the kind of weather that forms tornadoes, as some newscasters were saying afterward. What followed was a hailstorm of unmatched proportions in this part of Argentina, causing millions of dollars of damage to the city and to cars, collapsing some roofs, and putting holes through my balcony furniture that I could pit my fist through.

 I strongly recommend that you turn down the volume on your speakers/headphones before watching this:

 The car which passes above IS on the sidewalk, trying to avoid hail damage by driving under balconies. The cameraman says, “They’re the size of baseballs!”

This storm opened the floodgates in some kind of proverbial sense; ever since then smaller hailstorms have been frequent. Hail is formed by the kind of circular wind movement which causes tornadoes, and often appears during or right before tornadoes. Freezing rain falls and is lifted up in the wind, where another layer of ice freezes on it, and it falls again. Once it is too heavy, it will fall; until then it continues to be lifted up and to gather layers of ice. So large hailstones are present in extremely severe storms, with strong, circular winds which represent a serious tornado threat.

 I’m not one to say I told you so, but I definitely saw this coming. Local weather patterns have obviously shown serious changes, with hotter summers, cold winters, and generally more extreme weather. I privately (and with no way to prove it) predicted that a tornado would hit Gran Buenos Aires in a matter of years, because I’m seeing storms that resemble those of my home state, and noticing that the people here are seeing a difference. There is a rainy season, but the storms have been less frequent and more severe.

 Apart from the fact that this is causing wide-spread flooding (which is largely due to a sewer system in desperate need of some basic upkeep) I believe there is a real danger that if trends continue, a tornado will hit an unprepared city with devastating consequences.


The above picture shows a view of the waterspouts from Olivos, a suburban area just outside the capital. Imagine a tornado, regardless of its size, hitting an urban area where almost all buildings are like the apartment buildings you see here, one next to the other. Add to this the fact that the people here are not used to tornadoes and do not know how to properly protect themselves. The apartment I lived in during the hailstorm was a studio with a large glass door to the balcony. Anyone in such an apartment who doesn’t know to hide in the stairwell may find broken glass flying through their home. Building entryways are walled with gigantic mirrors in many buildings. The results of a tornado here, even if it doesn’t topple apartment buildings, could still cost many lives.

 Even worse would be a tornado impact in the villas de emergencia. These are extremely poor neighborhoods with homes built with scrap material, some of them several stories high and divided into apartments (where rent is paid and the cost is rising). These areas would be flattened by even a small tornado and the debris could be extremely deadly.

 The fact that weather patterns here are changing is obvious. This winter, it snowed in Buenos Aires for the first time in 89 years. I can’t say that this is the first time a waterspout has been seen in Buenos Aires, but I have been unable to find any source stating that it is or is not (if anyone can help me with this, let me know). It’s something we’re seeing all over the world, and not just because of increased media coverage. People are still rationalizing until they can convince themselves that a particularly cold or icy winter is proof that global warming does not exist, when it actually demonstrates the nature of the problem. Global climate change’s immediate effect on the weather is to cause more severe, unpredictable, and regionally abnormal weather which is already causing human lives to be endangered and lost, will continue to do so and get worse as time goes on. We have to do something to reverse the process, and the longer we wait to do it, the worse things will get before they stabilize.



Written by Alex (Capitalocracy)

March 15, 2008 at 7:30 am

Posted in Gonzo Report

Tagged with , ,

3 Responses

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  1. Muy buen articulo, excelente calidad de escritura y además yo puedo probar que habías dicho antes de que esto del tornado pasara, que el clima estaba dando señales de que esto pasaría en un futuro no muy lejano, y así fue.
    keep up the good work!


    March 15, 2008 at 8:03 pm

  2. Wow. Amazing detail. I had no idea BA could have such crazy weather.

    Greg Dawson

    May 25, 2008 at 4:38 pm

  3. Those are some awesome albeit terrifying photos. I don’t know what I would do myself if I saw multiple tornados on the horizon. Obviously I would hide in the basement but still… hopefully everyone is okay. Thanks for the update.

    Buenos Aires

    September 15, 2008 at 7:10 pm

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