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US Arctic storm sweeps south of border, placing Mexico on alert

Authorities have issued yellow and orange warnings with subzero temperatures, heavy rain, sleet and frost forecast in nothern and central areas

US bomb cyclone Arctic storm
Houses in the town of La Joya, on the slopes of the Nevado de Toluca (State of Mexico) blanketed by snow on Monday.Crisanta Espinosa Aguilar (Cuartoscuro)
Carlos S. Maldonado

The Arctic front that has swept across the United States over the past few days, leaving over 50 people dead and knocking out power to millions of homes and businesses, has also moved south of the border and is bringing sub-zero temperatures to the northern and central states of Mexico. The cold snap affected the US from the Great Lakes to the Rio Grande and has now extended into Mexico, where authorities have issued orange and yellow alerts with temperatures as low as -15 degrees Celsius (5ºF) forecast. No deaths have yet been reported in Mexico but local governments have urged citizens to take protective measures against the cold and, in the case of those living near the coasts, to stay away from the beaches, where waves up to four meters high are expected in areas of the south and southeast. “We anticipate that on Wednesday we will see a third winter storm. This is a new front that, together with a polar trough, could generate snow and sleet in the north of the country,” says Berenice Pelaes, meteorologist at Mexico’s National Meteorological Service (SMN).

The SMN warned Monday that a “cold to very cold” environment with temperatures of between -15 and -10 degrees Celsius with frost in mountainous areas in the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Nuevo León. Temperatures are expected to drop to between -10 and -5 degrees Celsius in San Luis Potosí, Sonora, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas.

Central Mexico will see temperatures of -5 degrees Celsius in the mountain ranges of the State of Mexico, Mexico City, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Puebla, Querétaro, Tlaxcala and Veracruz.

Civil Protection authorities in Mexico City have issued orange and yellow alerts due to the cold and recommended citizens “wear at least three layers of clothing, preferably cotton or wool; use cream to protect and moisturize the skin against the cold; avoid exposure to sudden changes in temperature; drink plenty of water and consume fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins A and C.”

Colombian migrant Gisele, 18, bundles up against the cold after spending the night camped alongside the US-Mexico border fence on December 22, 2022 in El Paso, Texas.
Colombian migrant Gisele, 18, bundles up against the cold after spending the night camped alongside the US-Mexico border fence on December 22, 2022 in El Paso, Texas. JOHN MOORE (Getty Images via AFP)

In addition to freezing temperatures, the SMN has also forecast heavy rain in Quintana Roo, Veracruz, Campeche, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Tabasco and Yucatan. Winds of up to 80 kmph (50mph) are expected in southern and southeastern areas. Civil organizations and NGOs have expressed concern about the situation in the poorest areas, including in the camps set up along the border with the United States, where would-be migrants lack sufficient protection from the storm conditions.

“These low temperatures have been associated with the Arctic air front. We have recorded strong winds, with gusts of up to 120 kmph in Veracruz. The conditions associated with this front are going to continue for the winter season,” Pelaes told EL PAÍS. Experts have forecast at least 51 cold snaps during the winter period. Currently, parts of Mexico are freezing under the 19th of these. “Cold temperatures will continue,” adds Pelaes, who says the Arctic front is still covering a large proportion of Mexican territory.

Mexico is affected annually by severe weather phenomena hitting the north of the American continent. In February 2021, one of the most intense cold waves in recent history killed at least six people in the northern regions. “We can’t say [the current snap] is one of the coldest fronts on record in Mexico but overall, this winter storm in the US is one of the most severe in recent years and it has caught up with us. It is unusual, for example, for sleet to fall in the center of the country,” Pelaes says.

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