Record Brazil heat pressures crops, energy prices, government
Even by Brazilian standards - man, it's hot.
This has been the hottest January on record in parts of Brazil including its biggest city, São Paulo. The heat, plus a severe drought, has kindled fears of water shortages, crop damage and higher electricity bills that could drag down the economy during an election year for President Dilma Rousseff.
The scorching conditions don't constitute a crisis quite yet, officials say. Weather has been mostly normal in other regions including Brazil's soy belt, where a record crop is still expected. Summer rains could return in February and March to refill reservoirs, as they did last year when similar concerns over a possible energy crisis proved to be overhyped.
Still, the risks are considerable because Brazil's economy is so fragile at the moment. Any disruption to food supplies or power costs would complicate the government's ability to meet the center of its 2014 inflation target of 4.5 percent, and the region's orange and coffee crops are already showing signs of stress, farmers say.
São Paulo's average January temperature through Thursday was 31.8 degrees Celsius (89.24 degrees Fahrenheit), 0.9 degrees hotter than the previous January record. Given Friday's forecast, this is likely to surpass February 1984 as the city's hottest month ever, according to INMET, Brazil's national meteorological institute.
Meanwhile, a high pressure system has blocked normal tropical afternoon rains during what is usually the year's wettest month. São Paulo's main reservoir is now at less than a quarter of its capacity, a 10-year low.
Meteorologists aren't hopeful for a change anytime soon.
"This is the hottest, driest January we've ever had ... and there isn't much hope for this heat to stop in the next two weeks," said Celso Oliveira, meteorologist for Somar weather service.
The weather has been so suffocating that many Brazilians have envied the so-called polar vortex causing snow and record cold in much of the United States. Some local meteorologists have speculated that the hot, dry weather in Brazil may be related to the same unusual atmospheric patterns.
Those with air conditioning have driven nationwide energy consumption to an all-time high this week. The strong demand, which is being met partly through increased use of thermoelectric power, means that spot energy prices are set to double in coming days to record levels beyond 800 reais ($326.50) per kilowatt-hour, three electrical industry sources told Reuters on Thursday.
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