Driest desert in the world springs into life after El Nino rains

Recently, there have been many dire warnings about the building El Nino conditions and the possible devastation that could happen this very winter. But today there is something extraordinarily wonderful to report about El Nino today.

The Atacama Desert in South America is among the driest places in the world. Stuck between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, the strip of land receives only 0.6 inches of rainfall each year. Indeed, some weather stations have never recorded any rainfall. Since rainfall began to be recorded in 1570, it is believed that the Atacama has never experienced any significant rainfall.

Until now.

Severe rainstorms earlier this year awakened flower seeds that have lain dormant for years. The result is a jaw-dropping injection of color- pink flowers cover the normally barren terrain as far as the eye can see.

“When you think of the desert, you think of total dryness, but there’s a latent ecosystem here just waiting for certain conditions to arise,” said Raul Cespedes, a desert specialist at the University of Atacama.

Flowers tend to bloom in some areas of the Atacama once every five to seven years. However, this most recent explosion of life is being called ‘unprecedented’.

“This year has been particularly special, because the amount of rainfall has made this perhaps the most spectacular of the past 40 or 50 years,” said Cespedes.

The Atacama Desert received 0.9 inches of rainfall earlier in March. This may seem like nothing but even that tiny increase has had major effects in the area. Not only have flowers bloomed like never before, mudslides have been rampant in the small towns near the desert, resulting in 28 deaths so far.

“This is a very unusual phenomenon. Because of the floods in March there was an exceptional winter bloom, which had never before been recorded… and then there was another bloom in spring,” said Daniel Diaz, director of the National Tourism Service for Atacama region.

“Two flowerings a year is very unusual in the most arid desert in the world, and that’s something we’ve been able to enjoy this spring, along with people from all over the world. There’s a lot of interest in seeing it,”

Most of the flowers to bloom are pink Rhodophiala rhodolirion but over 200 flora species exist in the desert causing some places to transform into psychedelic blends of green, yellow, and purple.

Local critters have greatly benefited from the desert flowering. Usually lifeless, the Atacama is now attracting birds, rodents, lizards, and insects- all coming to partake in the feast. A number of humans have also arrived to photograph and study the phenomenon.

“For us it was a miracle because in several years, I believe, based on my age and the time I have been here, I had never seen what the grass looks like until now,” said Ramon Cortes, a resident of nearby Vallenar.



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