In the deserts of Chile, bright flowers are not usually seen. In fact, the Atacama Desert is known as the driest place on Earth and is normally devoid of all flowers and bright colors. The desert’s geography and winds usually keeps storm systems out of the area. This year is a major exception, however. Intense rainfall over the past year has turned the barren desert into a lush wonderland filled with blooming flowers and beautiful colors.
Arica, Chile, in the northern part of the Atacama desert, once went 173 months without any rain - the world record. Antofagasta is a city just south of Arica and has an annual rainfall of about 0.07 inches. But, despite the normally dry conditions, this year proved to be quite different.
Heavy storms in March brought rain and snow to the desert. While the rains were at their peak, it was a natural disaster for the region. The banks of rivers, particularly the normally dry Copiapo River, swelled and overflowed, creating devastating floods. In fact, heavy thunderstorms brought 0.96 inches of rain in a single day to parts of the desert. And, while that does not seem like much rain, it amounted to over 14 years of rainfall in one day. The resulting floods killed nine people.
While the damage caused by the flooding was severe, there was an unexpected bright spot. The unprecedented moisture brought life to the normally barren landscape. The desert is now covered with wildflowers, including the beautiful, pink mallow flowers. The flowers normally bloom every five to seven years - coinciding with El Niño, but this year’s rain has led to the “most spectacular blossoming of the past 18 years.” The desert is blanketed with beautiful shades of pinks and lavenders.
And, while the locals experience the natural beauty of the scene, they are also experiencing a boost in their economy. One news agency reports that the area can expect over 20,000 tourists through November.
The Atacama Desert is not the only place experiencing record rainfall this year. Death Valley has also experienced major rainfall this month. On October 5th, Death Valley’s official weather station recorded 0.55 inches of rain for the day. Again, it might not seem like a lot of rain, but for the world’s hottest region, it is overwhelming.
Park officials posted on Facebook that, “A series of unusual storms in October caused large amounts of damage throughout Death Valley National Park. Flash floods destroyed significant portions of multiple roads and heavily damaged several historic structures at Scotty’s Castle and deposited debris in Devils Hole.”