The World Cup is an opportunity to set aside international differences, put pressing issues on hold, and let the global game take center stage for a month. However, when the U.S. kicks off their World Cup opener this evening there will be another factor on the pitch to consider besides their archenemy Ghana: the weather.
Natal, the coastal city of about one million people in northeastern Brazil where the U.S. is playing, suffered two days of non-stop rain starting on Friday totaling more than 13 inches — nine inches fell during a 24-hour deluge between Saturday and Sunday morning. Average rainfall for June is just over eight inches. The city declared a state of emergency on Sunday after flooded streets and landslides destroyed or damaged dozens of residences and forced at least 50 evacuations.
The rain was already falling during the Arena das Dunas stadium’s opening match between between Mexico and Cameroon on Friday, leaving the field torn up and waterlogged for today’s game.
Local news reported cars along the coastline halfway buried in mud and a collapsed section of road in a residential neighborhood.
— Jornal O Globo (@JornalOGlobo) June 13, 2014
— Ben Tavener (@BenTavener) June 15, 2014
“If it’s raining or if it’s snowing or if it’s thunder and lighting or whatever, this is about football being played in any circumstances,” U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann told reporters at a press conference at Arena das Dunas on Sunday. “Wet, dry, heat, humidity, whatever — both teams are on the field and will give their best. We’re not worried about that stuff at all.”
Whether or not anyone is paying attention a month from now after the global spectacle is over, the local community will be dealing with the aftereffects of the extreme weather. This can be said for the 12 venues playing host to World Cup games across the country. Last week the southern state of Parana experienced flooding that damaged hundreds of thousands of homes and claimed at least 11 lives.
While flooding is not uncommon in Brazil, climate change is expected to push the extremes of rainfall and drought beyond historical norms.
“Although severe weather events such as drought and floods have happened in the past, their frequency and intensity has increased,” Dr. Jose Marengo, Senior Scientist at the Earth System Science Center at the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research, recently told WKYC. “Between 2005 and 2013, the Amazon experienced two very extreme droughts and three extreme floods, the frequency of which is unusual.”