Extreme hydrometeorological phenomena, learning lessons for the future.

The current turbulent situation causes many extreme weather events to go virtually unnoticed, or at best, only receive attention at the local level. This is what has happened with two recent extreme hydrometeorological phenomena that have brought devastation to Ecuador and Brazil.

However, far from the morbid fascination sometimes associated with these types of disasters, at Arantec we believe that these episodes related to hydrometeorological risks offer valuable lessons to prevent their recurrence. Ultimately, taking preventive measures cannot completely avoid a flood, for example, but it can certainly minimize the damages caused.

What are hydrometeorological risks?

Hydrometeorological risks refer to the probability of a disaster occurring as a result of an extreme weather event related to water.

Indeed, the risk does not solely lie in the occurrence of the phenomenon itself, such as heavy rainfall. There must also be a condition of vulnerability manifested in the presence of buildings or infrastructure that can be affected. Thus, the overflow of a river that only floods uninhabited areas would not result in a disaster.

The problem arises when these events occur in urban areas, especially in densely populated cities with informal settlements lacking proper planning and infrastructure to channel surface runoff.

Carapicuíba (São Paulo, Brasil)

It is also important to consider the intensification of these phenomena as global warming becomes more evident. In fact, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), weather-related disasters have increased by a factor of 5 in the last 50 years.

Ultimately, a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, approximately 7% more for each 1°C of warming. This situation can result in an increase in extreme precipitation events and possibly a strengthening of atmospheric rivers, also known as “ríos voladores” (flying rivers). These are elongated regions in the atmosphere spanning thousands of kilometers with higher moisture content than the surrounding areas. It appears that atmospheric rivers could be the cause of the intense rainfall in Petrópolis, Brazil.

Technological solutions to address hydrometeorological risks

As mentioned earlier, events related to extreme weather phenomena have multiplied in recent years. However, the number of casualties has decreased.

One explanation for this apparent contradiction lies in the progress made in recent decades in early warning systems and the development of proactive disaster management strategies.

The implementation of these measures, however, is uneven. Countries with low and middle incomes, which are often the ones most severely affected by such episodes, are calling for greater international cooperation to alleviate this situation.

Countries like Ecuador, for example, are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of investing in such systems. Mudslides, such as the one that occurred in the city of Quito in January 2022, which we will discuss in more detail later, have highlighted the need to strengthen the current early warning system.

The role of Arantec in minimizing the effects of extreme hydrometeorological events

Arantec has specialized in providing solutions that help minimize damages resulting from hydrometeorological risks.

Products like SmartyRiver, supported by our automatic weather stations, offer a comprehensive service aimed at providing the hyperlocal information needed to take the most appropriate measures.

These options are complemented by our web platform, which, among other things, allows for

  • visualize the data collected by the sensors on the ground in a user-friendly manner,
  • generate reports, and
  • configure alerts.

Quito and Petrópolis, two examples that speak volumes.

Quito and the Brazilian city of Petrópolis are the stage for two recent tragedies that have water as the protagonist.

La Gasca and La Comuna: when the volcano’s slope meets the city.

For example, Quito experienced a mudslide in January 2022 that directly affected the neighborhoods of La Gasca and La Comuna. The heavy rainfall, reaching record levels, triggered a landslide on the slopes of the Pichincha volcano, resulting in the death of over 20 people.

Localization of the neighborhoods La Gasca and La Comuna (highlighted in red) in relation to the Pichincha volcano. Source: Google Maps.

Según citan algunos medios locales, el fenómeno pudo verse agravado por la cantidad de basura y escombros que ocupan algunas de quebradas de la ciudad y que podrían haber bloqueado el flujo de agua y lodo.

In any case, the minimization of the consequences of these phenomena could be achieved by implementing some of the following measures:

  • Rigorous study of the areas most prone to risk
  • Awareness campaigns among the population to prevent illegal dumping
  • Installation of cameras for real-time surveillance of the most problematic ravines
  • Implementation of a radar sensor system to detect water level increases
  • Establishment of an early warning system for landslides in the high-risk slopes of Pichincha volcano

Petropolis, the importance of well-planned urbanization

The floods recorded in Petropolis have been dramatic. Over 200 people have lost their lives as a result of the heavy rains and subsequent flooding.

In this case, it appears that the irregular constructions settled on the slopes have played a decisive role in the fatal consequences. In fact, the local authorities themselves acknowledge that around 20,000 houses are located in high and very high-risk areas.

Remedying this situation involves, first and foremost, investing in the necessary resources. If the scarcity of land hinders the implementation of resettlement policies, at the very least, an early warning system should be implemented to cover all neighborhoods of the city, ensuring its proper functioning and effective communication of alerts to the residents.


A network of hydrometeorological stations could have potentially reduced the impact of these climate change-related events. Receiving a warning that the water flow in a stream is rapidly increasing or observing a possible problem through a screen can be the initial step in raising the alarm to the population. Timely information about changing hydrological conditions can help authorities and communities take preventive measures, evacuate at-risk areas, and mitigate the potential damage caused by extreme weather events. Therefore, implementing such a network can contribute to reducing the impact of these phenomena.

Natural disasters can help us visualize the problems that need to be addressed. The goal should be to prevent the recurrence of such events. However, this objective will not be possible without the willingness and necessary cooperation for their resolution.

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