What’s Going on Inside the Fearsome Thunderstorms of Córdoba Province?

What’s Going on Inside the Fearsome Thunderstorms of Córdoba Province?

  • Scientists are studying the extreme weather in northern Argentina to see how it works — and what it can tell us about the monster storms in our future.

When he thought back to the late-December morning when Berrotarán was entombed in hail, it was the memory of fog that brought Matias Lenardon the greatest dread. He remembered that it had drifted into the scattered farming settlement in north-central Argentina sometime after dawn. Soon it had grown thicker than almost any fog the young farmer had seen before. It cloaked the corn and soybean fields ringing the town and obscured the restaurants and carnicerias that line the main thoroughfare. He remembered that the fog bore with it the cool mountain air of the nearby Sierras de Córdoba, a mountain range whose tallest peaks rise abruptly from the plains just to the town’s northwest. Like any lone feature in flat country, the sierras had long served as lodestar to the local agricultural community, who kept a close watch on them for signs of approaching weather. But if Lenardon or anyone else in Berrotarán thought much of the fog that morning in 2015, it was only that it obscured their usual view of the peaks.

At the time, Lenardon was at the local radio station, where he moonlighted as the town’s weather forecaster. It was a role the 22-year-old had inherited, in some sense, from his grandfather Eduardo Malpassi, who began recording daily weather observations in a family almanac almost 50 years before. Like many farmers in Córdoba Province, Lenardon had learned from older generations how to read the day’s advancing weather according to a complex taxonomy of winds and clouds that migrated across the pampas — the vast pale grasslands that blanket much of the country’s interior. If the winds turned cool as the day wore on, Lenardon knew it meant rain, brought north from Patagonia. More troubling were the winds that blew in wet and hot from the northwest — off the sierras.