South America’s Amazon basin is a massive area covering more than 36% of the continent.
The verdant rainforest ecosystem is full of ancient peoples, medicinal plants, vibrant animal life and abundant resources.
Among the most remarkable aspects of the Amazon biome are a number of weather phenomena that only happen there.
If you’ve ever been in the Amazon basin or on the river and seen these striking occurrences, then you know what I’m talking about…
If not, read on and prepare to be amazed!
1) Magic rain
The first remarkable phenomena you will find in the Amazon is that rain grows on trees, appearing seemingly magically and falling from leaves.
Most of us have a basic grasp of how rain falls from condensed water in the clouds over the sea in a repeating cycle.
But in the Amazon, rainfall starts several months before the winds start to bring in these rain-filled clouds from the ocean.
Scientists long studied the magical appearance of this early rainfall.
If it wasn’t coming from the ocean, they deemed it must be coming from the tree cover, which was proven correct.
This theory was proven in 2017 by climate scientist Rong Fu and his team in collaboration with data from NASA’s Aura satellite system.
The findings showed that the early rainclouds accumulating over the Amazon rainforest were high in deuterium – an isotope of hydrogen – which rainclouds over the ocean do not contain.
This deuterium then filters down and is absorbed by the leaves, coming out as magic-seeming raindrops.
This relates to the next unique weather phenomenon in the Amazon.
2) The tears of God
The Amazon rainforest triggers its own wet season, which is sometimes referred to as “the tears of God.”
In the Amazon, the rainforest has its own ecosystem which relates to the previous point in that the rain coming from the leaves leads to the start of the wet season.
Professor Fu demonstrated how the self-producing rainfall triggers the wet season.
The rainforest’s circulation is large enough to induce a shift in wind patterns, which in turn attracts even more moisture and rain in from the ocean.
This self-generating cycle is the rainforest’s way of creating its own rainy season and generating sufficient water to keep its verdant ecosystem thriving.
Another fascinating weather phenomena in the Amazon are lançantes.
These are tidal influxes that happen twice daily throughout the Amazon’s complex system of small rivers.
“This daily cycle makes the forest a spectacular nursery for crustaceans, mostly shrimp, and many species of fish that are the main source of food and income for the caboclos, as the people living in the riverine communities are called.”
Around five million residents in the Amazon floodplain areas, where they collect many items from their environment including leaves, fruit and wood from the pracaxi trees and fruits like açaí and guava.
There is an issue, however, which is that lançantes have been getting higher and are causing a problem for some communities in the estuary regions.
4) Reverse desert effect
The caboclos have noticed that while lançantes are getting higher in volume, the drier season is also becoming hotter.
In fact even during the rainy season, the Amazon is hot and humid the whole year round.
There is no fully dry season owing to the unique ways in which the rainforest produces its own rain.
The Amazon remains so beautifully green and lush because it maintains this topical heat and heavy rainfall throughout the year.
There is no typical distinction between what we might consider to be summer and winter seasons, nor even between the wet and dry seasons.
A very small window of the not-so-rainy (but also not fully dry) season exists between March and June, which tends to make for the more popular tourist visitation period.
5) Welcome to Babi Yaga land
Because of so much rain and moisture most of the time as well as the lançantes, many houses in the Amazon are built on stilts.
As a child my mom would read my sister and I stories about Baba Yaga, a mythical old ogress who lives in a house with bird legs that can move.
These houses may remind you of that, but they’re not built for any mythical reason:
They’re built this way to stop inundating waters from causing any damage or washing away people’s stuff!
6) Friagem events
Although the Amazon remains primarily tropical in climate and is generally very hot, it occasionally experiences somewhat colder temperatures.
These weather phenomena are known as friagem events.
“Although located in the tropics, the Amazon sporadically experiences incursions of cold waves from the high latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere…
“They significantly impact the weather patterns during the time they occur, causing for example a temperature drop and increased cloudiness.”
We’re still not talking about any kind of really icy temperatures, however.
Friagem events usually drop temperatures by only four to seven degrees, leaving temperatures still generally in the low or mid-twenties celsius at coldest in most cases. The average temperature in Brazil’s portion of the Amazon, for example, ranges between 29 – 35°C.
Friagem events happen most commonly between July to September and often take place several times per year.
7) Gravity waves
Another unique weather event in the Amazon is the world’s longest wave, known as the pororoca.
The Amazon brings over 1.3 million tons of river sediment and mud into the ocean near French Guiana and Brazil’s border.
The pororoca wave takes place before spring tidal times and goes upstream at 16 to 24 kilometers per hour (10 to 15 mph) rising to a height of up to 12 feet as it advances down the river.
Adventure seekers and surfers have tried surfing this longlasting and dangerous wave.
8) When the monkeys come out to play
When water levels are high during the wet season even more mammals come out to run around the jungle.
This includes monkeys who love to jump around tree cover and explore the jungle during the flooded season. Many other animals also roam around, although fish become more dispersed since they have more water to swim in at the flooded areas.
There is also an abundance of plants bearing fruit and blooming flowers, although it is harder to walk around for hikers and tourists due to the higher water levels.
An abundance of life
New plants and species are being continually discovered in the Amazon basin, and 30% of all animal species in the world live there.
“The biodiversity of the Amazon River Basin is unparalleled, hosting 3 million different species and over 2,500 different kinds of trees…
The Amazon River pumps out 30 million gallons of freshwater into the Atlantic Ocean every day, constituting a large proportion of planet earth’s running freshwater.”
Saving the Amazon
The Amazon rainforest’s tree cover has already lost around 20% of its cover in the past half century.
That loss is accelerating due to climate change, clearcutting for grazing pastures, mining, forestry and slash and burn agriculture.
This negatively impacts biodiversity, the hydrologic cycle and rainfall and weather patterns around the world.
As the above weather phenomena show, the Amazon is home to some amazing natural wonders, and it works in ways that are unique on this planet.
Some of the extreme weather events such as rare and sudden temperature drops and flash flooding that are now frequently occurring also show the drastic impact of pollution and climate change.
It must be saved and cherished, to protect the wonders and functions of nature for generations to come.