The heat wave of October 2020 in central South America

Jose A. Marengo, Tercio Ambrizzi, Naurinete Barreto, Ana Paula Cunha, Andrea M. Ramos, Milagros Skansi, Jorge Molina Carpio, Roberto Salinas

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10 Scopus citations


During September–November 2020, the meteorological services of Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Paraguay, and Bolivia reported record-high maximum temperatures in several warm spells during this season. Positive and significant trends in heat wave frequency, intensity, and duration have been recorded since the 1980s, particularly in large cities. In this study, a heat wave is defined as a period in which both daily maximum and minimum air temperatures exceed the corresponding climatological 90th percentile for three or more consecutive days during September–November 2020. In this period, an intense heat wave during the first half of October and two heat waves events in November resulted in record-breaking daily maximum temperatures in several locations in central South America. Places experienced temperature of about 10°C above normal, and some locations reported maximum temperatures above 40°C for several days in a row. Because its intensity and geographical extension, affecting central South America from southern Peruvian Amazon to southeastern Brazil, the heat wave of September 23–October 15 was selected as a case study. This intense heat wave was due a persistent atmospheric blocking located starting in late September and lasting until middle October 2020, a continuous presence of a warm air mass for several consecutive days contributed to pronounced positive temperature anomalies, possibly reinforced by extremely low soil moisture. This makes it easier for these high-pressure systems to generate extreme heat waves because more of the sun's energy is going into heating the atmosphere rather than evaporating non-existent water in the soil. This heat wave aggravated the drought over the Pantanal and other regions in October 2020, increasing fires and impacts on natural and human systems, representing a severe drought-heat compound event. This vicious cycle of drought and extreme heat is of the kind expected under a warming climate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2281-2298
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Climatology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 30 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the National Institute of Science and Technology for Climate Change Phase 2 under CNPq, grant number 465501/2014‐1; Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP) grant numbers 2014/50848‐9 and 2017/09659‐6, the National Coordination for High Level Education and Training (CAPES), grant number 88887.136402/2017‐00 and CNPq grant 301397/2019‐8 for Jose A. Marengo, Tercio Ambrizzi, and Ana Paula Cunha. Tercio Ambrizzi also had the partial support from CNPq 301397/2019‐8.

Funding Information:
Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico, Grant/Award Number: 465501/2014‐1; Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior, Grant/Award Number: 88887.136402/2017‐; Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo, Grant/Award Number: 2014/50848‐9; CNPq, Grant/Award Number: 301397/2019‐8 Funding information

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Royal Meteorological Society


  • compound event
  • drought
  • heat wave
  • maximum temperature


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