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No Let-up Seen in Santiago's Driest June in 50 Years

  • Reuters

Smog shrouds Chile's capital Santiago, Chile, June 22, 2015.

Smog shrouds Chile's capital Santiago, Chile, June 22, 2015.

The Chilean capital of Santiago has experienced the driest June in half a century, leading to headache-inducing levels of pollution and Andean ski slopes bereft of snow, with no rain clouds on the horizon, meteorologists say.

There has been zero precipitation in the month to date in Santiago - the first time that has happened in 50 years.

The unusually dry conditions in the midst of the Southern Hemisphere winter have exacerbated the city's already-high pollution levels, leading the government to declare an "emergency" on Monday, banning many vehicles and forcing some businesses to close.

Santiago sits in a topographical bowl, making it susceptible to pollution caused by factories, cars, fires and wood-burning stoves, particularly in winter. Normally rain clears the air at regular intervals, but the arid June has left city-dwellers gasping for breath.

No relief from the arid conditions is expected in the week ahead.

"We can say that no rain is expected for the next seven days," Janette Calderon, a meteorologist with the country's official meteorological office said on Tuesday.

The dry month compounds a drought that has been going on for some eight years, weighing on industries from mining to wine producers.

Just under 12 millimeters of rain has fallen since the start of the year, compared to an average for the first six months of the year of over 100 millimeters, said Calderon.

That makes the first half of 2015 the driest half year since records began in 1966.

Andean ski resorts near the city, popular with tourists and locals alike, would normally be opening in the next few weeks, but are practically bone dry.

On Monday, the emergency meant subways were crowded as drivers left cars at home and businesses running stoves such as bakers were forced to shut.

Miner Anglo American PLC said it did not operate a molybdenum drier for its Los Bronces plant on Monday due to the shutdown, but that the halt would not impact production.

The government downgraded its pollution alert on Tuesday, which eases some of the restrictions on cars and businesses.

It still, however, recommends schools halting outdoor sporting activities just as Chile is hosting the Copa America soccer tournament.