A heat wave has hit parts of central South America this week, coinciding with the Immaculate Conception pilgrimage attended by faithful Catholics.
On Wednesday, a day before the holiday, a sweltering 43.5°C was recorded in Santiago del Estero, Argentina. The national meteorological services of Argentina and Paraguay issued extreme heat weather warnings this week as temperatures rose 10C above the seasonal norm for several days in many locations.
Authorities advised the public not to go outside for extended periods, particularly during the early afternoon hours. The searing heat could not have come at a worse time for those hoping to join the annual pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Miracles in the town of Caacupé, to honor the Virgin Mary on Thursday.
In an attempt to reduce the risk of heat-related injuries, water tanks have been placed along the route to ensure that those undertaking the journey can stay hydrated.
Although the extreme temperatures are expected to subside this weekend, a new weather warning, this time for thunderstorms, has been issued in many parts of Argentina for the next few days. Heavy rain, strong winds and possibly hail are also forecast.
The wet weather is likely to offer some relief to farmers whose crops have struggled during the heat wave. However, the deluge threatens to wreak more devastation in the form of localized flooding and severe hail. On November 30, a thunderstorm in Buenos Aires produced hail the size of golf balls.
South America has not been the only region experiencing warmer than average temperatures recently. Europe and Greenland recorded their fifth warmest November this year. This is an average for the whole continent during this period, but several places have been much colder than average in the last month.