One of world's most famous waterfalls thunders again after heavy rains

·5 min read

The massive Iguazu Falls site in South America has fully reopened to tourists after torrential rains forced the partial closure of the iconic waterfalls attraction earlier this week.

The falls, made up of 275 cascades tumbling over towering cliffs on the border of Brazil and Argentina, were deluged with five times the amount of rushing water it normally sees from the Iguazu River, which feeds into the canyon.

"Imagine the flow of this river, which is 2,000 cubic meters per second passing through a place, we had flows of 500 cubic meters and now we have flows of 10,000 cubic meters per second," Iguazu National Park Ranger Rodrigo Castillo told AFP.

Rain pounded the region Monday night into Tuesday, dumping nearly a half-inch of rain in the area of the Falls, and about an inch of precipitation about an hour farther north in Salto Del Guaira, Paraguay, AccuWeather data showed.

Visitors take photographs at Iguazu Falls in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, in this June 14, 2014, photo. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

The overflowing river and subsequent accelerated flow of the falls destroyed much of the railing and footbridges in the steepest section of the park, called Devil's Throat (or "Garganta del Diablo" in Spanish) due to its 269-foot drop. Once they were able to get them replaced, park officials said sightseers were invited back in.

"This amount of water gives the waterfall a unique beauty," Castillo said. "There are many people who come here in a dry season and complain that there is no water. The people who come now and see all this water, it's like something that is also intimidating."

Considered one of the most dramatic natural wonders of the world, these series of waterfalls attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. They are second in height only to Victoria Falls, a set of waterfalls at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe in Africa.

When the falls are flowing at or above capacity, as seen in the video below, they are a magnificent force of nature to behold and to hear.

But the breathtaking Iguazu Falls, with its crashing water, sprays of mist and incredible displays of shimmering rainbows, aren't always overflowing with gallons and gallons of water.

"We're coming from more or less a year of very, very important drought in the area," Castillo noted.

A drought in 2020 saw the Falls' thundering cascades dry to a trickle at a time when it typically reaches its peak.

From April to May 2020, the falls experienced an abnormally dry "rainy" season -- which in Brazil typically stretches from December to April -- causing the Iguazu River to move at only 13% of its usual flow by the end of April, Reuters reported. Rainfall was sparse during other months as well.

"Rainfall was well below normal from January through April 2020," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jason Nicholls said at the time, adding that November 2019 was the last month that experienced wetter-than-normal conditions.

This March 15, 2015 file photo shows tourists wearing plastic ponchos trying to stay dry in the spray of Iguazu Falls in Brazil. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

Nicholls attributed the lack of rain during the wet season mostly to a weak central Pacific El Niño, when above-normal sea surface temperatures developed across the region. The last time the falls had dried up this drastically, Nicholls said, was in 2006, also during a mostly central Pacific El Niño, a pattern that can affect the weather around the world.

The falls, as a result, slowed drastically. Iguazu looked like a collection of streams, the basin below relatively undisturbed.

Although the drought was more moderate than severe, its impacts were largely seen across the two nations and amplified by the pandemic.

At the neighboring Parana River, which was at its lowest level in 50 years by the end of April 2020, ships were left stranded and hydropower production weakened, according to Reuters. Concern began to grow as northeastern Argentina government officials began to worry about the availability of water for drinking and hand washing during the pandemic.

Also, Victoria Falls started drying up in 2019 and by the fall of 2021 was still recovering from a drought that had left its falls nearly barren.

This March 15, 2015 photo shows a rainbow at Iguazu Falls from the Brazilian side in Foz do Iguazu, Brazil. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

Fortunately it didn't take that long at Iguazu Falls. By June 2020, the majestic scene was roaring back to life, the river bursting over the falls and once again creating the iconic scene of rainbows in the mist.

The thundering cascades were helped even more by this week's heavy rainfall.

"This amount of water gives the waterfall a unique beauty. There are many people who come here in a dry season and complain that there is no water. The people who come now and see all this water, it's like something that is also intimidating," Castillo, the park ranger, said.

The South American park, a designated World Heritage site, draws nearly 2 million visitors each year, according to UNESCO.

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