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Taking a rain check

There was outcry in February when the worst snowfall for almost 20 years closed schools around the country, but it took a lot less than that to close schools in Iquique in Chile last week. Less than 1100th of an inch of rain fell and life in the port came to a juddering halt.

Not only were children sent home from school, the drizzle was enough to cause a power cut across several of the city's neighbourhoods and damage the roofs of 4,000 houses, said Governor Miguel Silva.

The city of 170,000 people in Northern Chile is situated next to the barren Atacama Desert. It averages about 0.02 inches of rain a year, according to University of Chile meteorologists. Consequently, schools and houses are not built to withstand adverse weather conditions, and they have no slopes to drain the rain. Imagine if it had snowed.

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