Torrential rainfall during December 1999 resulted in devastating floods and landslides along the northern coast of Venezuela. These events occurred in an area with a predominantly dry climate, took place during what is regionally the dry season, and were preceded by unusually heavy seasonal rainfall. An observational study was undertaken in an attempt to identify anomalous features of the climate system associated with both the enhanced seasonal rainfall prior to the landslides as well as the extreme December rainfall events that triggered them. Observational data for the period 1950-99 are used to provide historical context. Results indicate that the copious seasonal rainfall prior to the floods was associated with anomalous conditions in both the tropical Pacific and Atlantic basins similar to past events, although some features were unusually strong in 1999. The extreme daily rainfall in December 1999 was associated with atmospheric circulation features originating in the extratropical Northern Hemisphere that penetrated unusually far into the Tropics. Possible physical mechanisms acting to enhance rainfall on both timescales are discussed.
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