Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ash, Rain, Snow, & Southern Cone Skiing

As Volcán Chaitén continued to smolder, heavy rains from a Pacific front cleared enough yesterday that an overflight could observe the formation of a new dome that could threaten the town of Chaitén. Already, of course, much of the town is under water, with perhaps 120 houses destroyed, and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's government has suggested that it will be at least three months before inhabitants can return (if ever; permanent relocation is a real possibility). Flood waters have undercut the bridge at El Amarillo, southeast of town, so that Chaitén is unreachable by road, but most pets have now been evacuated.

With the approach of winter, storms have brought heavy rains and winds throughout the Chilean heartland as well, knocking over many trees in Santiago and causing floods and storm tides. But there have been benefits as well: some of the country's depleted hydroelectric reservoirs have started to refill and Andean ski resorts such as El Colorado, barely an hour from downtown Santiago, may open by month's end.

There may be ski season complications in Argentine Patagonia, though. According to Diego Allolio in Bariloche, "the situation is fragile because there are no flights" due to continued ashfall, and some hotels are laying off staff. In his ski blog, though, David Owen of Powderquest says that all trips are still go, even if they may have shift some days from Esquel's La Hoya Ski Resort to Chapelco at San Martín de los Andes, which has been unaffected by the ashfall from Chaitén.

At Trevelin, just south of Esquel, Charly Moreno of the Casaverde Hostel writes that "we're in between ashes and snow, and need to wear masks and be cautious with the vehicles," but that the water supply comes from deep wells and is fine.

All of Argentine Patagonia, though, remains vulnerable to interrupted flight schedules and, on top of that, Aerolíneas Argentinas fares have risen more than a third in the past month. Even if schedules resume, getting to the slopes will cost lots more.


jamie said...

As a full time resident of Bariloche, and a person with rental property I am concerned about the cancelled flights. The air is clear, you can see the moon and sun perfectly. There are flights to Osorno and San Martin de los Andes. I think something is fishy, how can it be there is only ash above Bariloche? The only answer I recieve is there is ash in the atmosphere that can get in the planes engines.

Wayne Bernhardson said...

I don't enough about how volcanic ash might affect airplane engines to be able to evaluate the situation, but I know someone who and I'll try to contact him.

In Guatemala City, where the international airport is close to one of Central America's most active volcanos, it's not unusual to have flights diverted to El Salvador or elsewhere.

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