Essay

How Cold Are the Andes Mountains? Most Extreme Temperatures and Snowfall

Along South America’s western coast, the breathtaking Andes Mountain Range passes through Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. It travels more than 5000 miles overall. It’s an area of extremes: extreme cold in certain places, extreme beauty, and extreme height. However, how chilly are the Andes Mountains and what effect does this have on the local population? We look at the mountain range’s most extreme snowfall and temperature records.

The Andes can be split into three regions based on climate. The northern Andes, which span roughly through Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela, are characterized by volcanic peaks rising to elevations of more than 16,000 feet. The two largest lakes in the range, Lake Titicaca among them, are located in the central Andes, which stretches across both Peru and Chile. It is separated into two areas: one falls below the Tropic of Capricorn and the other is located inside the tropics. Lastly, the southern Andes reach into Chile and Argentina from the southernmost point of South America. The Andes de Transición, the Patagonian Andes, and the Antartandes are other divisions of this region. The Andes de Transición, commonly known as the “roof of the Andes,” are home to the highest peaks.

What Is the Climate of the Andes?

It is impossible to characterize a single Andes climate because the Andes are so large and have so diverse topography. But generally speaking, the climate is mountainous. The central Andes are drier, the southern Andes are wet and chilly, and the northern Andes are wet and warmer. While many of the peaks are constantly covered in snow, areas near the Pacific Ocean are impacted by winds and precipitation from the sea.

It is generally colder the higher and further south you go. The lowest average minimum temperature, -5 0C, or 230F, is recorded in July. However, it’s critical to realize that this is only an average.

How Cold Are the Central Andes?

The central Andes record highs and lows in temperature and precipitation. January through March is the rainy season in the middle Andes, and April through December is the dry season. The rain that falls at lower elevations changes into snowstorms in the mountains. Temperatures in the Atacama Desert can reach as low as -400C in the nearby mountains and as low as -250C (-130F) in the desert itself. The biggest snowfall areas are also found in the central Andes.

In the central Andes, extreme snow episodes have also been documented. Locals in the Chilian region of Portillo referred to the August 2023 event as “the storm of a decade.” In a day, it sank 27.5 inches, and in four days, it dropped almost 59 inches. In the meantime, almost 98 inches of snow fell on the Argentinean Andes ski resort of Las Lenas, effectively burying it!

Effects of Extreme Cold in the Andes

In the middle Peruvian Andes, radiative frosts (frosts induced by nighttime heat loss from the Earth’s surface) constitute a hazard to people, crops, and animals. Low cloud cover, surface air humidity, and soil moisture are their causes. They usually happen in the austral summer, at night. In certain areas, air mass intrusions exacerbate the situation.

Extreme weather was experienced in the Andes between 2007 and 2010. This made daily living difficult for communities residing in the central Andes of Peru, at an elevation of 15,400 feet. Uruguay and Argentina were also impacted. The effects of living at such high altitudes were nothing new to the residents of these locations. But winter arrived early for four years in a row, testing their endurance to the breaking point. Eighty percent of families in the area live below the poverty line, indicating the region’s already extreme poverty.

For weeks, the temperature dropped to -240C, or 130 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. In actuality, winter arrived three months sooner than usual. Cattle began to die, bean crops faltered, and the effects on children were severe.

In 2010, the lowest temperatures in 46 years occurred, which led to the deaths of hundreds of children.

What Causes Extreme Weather in the Andes?

The altitude, closeness to the sea, and distinctive topography of the mountain range all contribute to the extremes of cold and snowfall. Scientists believe that recent weather events are also influenced by climate change, though.

Inversely, it’s possible that global warming is causing the Andes Mountains to get colder. Climate change-related complicated atmospheric shifts can result in extremes of heat or cold. It serves as a sobering reminder that the impacts of climate change are unpredictable and frequently have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable populations.