May 28, 2024 - Science

Climate change amplifying Mexico's heat and drought crisis

 A howler monkey gets treatment  on May 24 during an ongoing heat wave  in Cunduacan, Mexico.

A howler monkey gets treatment on May 24 during an ongoing heat wave in Cunduacan, Mexico. Photo: Jose Torres/Anadolu via Getty Images

Mexico is facing the triple threats of a searing heat wave, drought and in the nation's capital water shortages that experts say are being amplified by climate change.

The big picture: The heat dome that's parked over the country has resulted in the deaths of dozens of people and animals from heat stroke and dehydration.

A map showing most of Mexico in some form of drought.
Photo: North American Drought Monitor
  • Nearly two-thirds of Mexico was forecast to face on Monday temperature highs of 113 degrees Fahrenheit during the ongoing heat wave that's already set record temperatures.
  • Meanwhile, Mexico City residents have been forced for months to ration water and officials estimate parts of the capital's central valley could reach "day zero" as early as June 26 — which Marina E. Franco, writing for Axios, notes would occur if there isn't enough water to pump out to the city, even if the typical rainy season starts that month.

Threat level: In addition to the threats heat and drought pose to people, officials in Mexico are concerned about the effects the extreme weather is having on animals.

  • Experts warn an endangered Mexican salamander could go extinct due to the drought, and officials in northern Mexico told AP on Monday that the heat had claimed the lives of "at least a hundred parrots, bats and other animals" that appeared to be dehydrated.
  • Mexican officials are particularly concerned about the effects of the heat on howler monkeys and the country's environment department said it's stepped up efforts to stem the rising heat-related death toll of the Mexican subspecies that the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Tabasco classifies as endangered.
  • 157 heat-related howler monkey deaths had been recorded in the southern states of Tabasco and Chiapas as of Sunday.

Context: Studies show climate change is causing heat waves to be more intense, longer-lasting and more frequent, while droughts tend to be hotter as the climate warms.

Between the lines: Tampa Bay meteorologist Jeff Berardelli noted in posts to X Monday evening that Mexico's drought was making the long-term water shortage "much worse, turning it into an acute emergency."

  • The long-term cause is climate change due to lack of rain and excessive heat causing excessive evaporation and drying, according to Berardelli.
  • Estimates show that in Greater Mexico City 2.15 times more water is taken out of the aquifers than is recharged or recovered in the city of some 21 million people.
  • Berardelli notes this lack of water "is a supply vs demand and a mis-management issue, with climate change drought as an amplifier."

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