This assessment was issued to clients of Dragonfly’s Security Intelligence & Analysis Service (SIAS) on 12 July 2023.
- Meteorologists have warned that a heat wave across Mexico is likely in the coming weeks
- High temperatures are likely to cause localised power outages in heavily-populated areas due to high demand for air conditioning
- We assess that widespread blackouts that affect multiple states are unlikely this month, but that they are possible, if not probable, in the next year
At the end of June, local meteorologists warned a heat wave ‘can be expected’ in July. These forecasts suggest that states along the Gulf of Mexico, in the southwest, northeast and northwest are likely to be affected. Extreme temperatures have not emerged yet this month, but we anticipate another heat wave would likely lead to elevated public health risks and localised power outages lasting for a few hours, particularly in northern Mexico.
Another heat wave probable
Mexico is likely to remain prone to extreme heat this month. There have already been three heat waves in the country this year, with temperatures exceeding 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in northern Mexico in June. At the end of that month, meteorologists from a major Mexican university forecast another heat wave of ‘similar magnitude’ in July. This is due to a tropical phenomenon in the Pacific suppressing rain in North America. This has yet to happen, but on 7 July the US Climate Prediction Center forecast a 50% chance of above-average temperatures in northern Mexico until 18 July.
Our climatic risk rating for Mexico remains moderate, as there are currently no countrywide warnings in place. However, in light of the recent forecasts and the impact of recent heat waves, we have raised this rating to high for cities in the north of Mexico. These include Chihuahua, Ciudad Juarez, Hermosillo, Monterrey and Torreon, as high temperatures there appear imminent in the coming days.
Elevated public health risks
High temperatures in the coming weeks would probably lead to elevated public health risks. The Mexican health ministry has reported almost three times more heat-related deaths this year (112) than last year (42). We suspect that the actual number is even higher; local media reports indicate the federal government has dismissed figures from local governments that report a higher death toll. It has also publicly downplayed reports of heat-related deaths.
Even so, healthcare facilities in any part of Mexico are unlikely to be overwhelmed by heat-related hospitalisations, in our assessment. This is because there have not been any observable signs that medical services struggled to cope during the heat wave in June. This was also the case during previous intense heat waves, such as in 2018.
Outlook for power outages and business disruption
Nevertheless, we assess that localised power outages are likely over the next few weeks, particularly along the Gulf of Mexico, as well as in the southwest, northeast and northwest. These are the areas that typically experience the highest temperatures in July, according to official meteorological data.
Electricity distribution infrastructure in these areas also appears unable to cope with the increased demand for air conditioning. In June, there were outages of a few hours due to the high demand for electricity, including in major cities in Nuevo Leon and Veracruz states. Some water supply issues during outages are also likely in Chihuahua and Quintana Roo (several major tourist resorts are located in the latter), based on precedent from June.
Outages are likely to cause temporary disruption to large businesses. This is particularly for manufacturing companies in the north that do not have energy storage facilities. During a winter storm in 2021, the national energy authority said it would prioritise electricity for hospitals, homes and small- to medium-sized businesses over large industries in the event of power shortages. There are few signs that this policy would be any different in the case of heat-related power shortages. But there is a low chance, in our assessment, that any outages would last more than a few hours. This is based on precedent from June.
Blackouts more likely in coming years
Blackouts across multiple states appear unlikely this month. There have been two large outages across northern Mexico lasting a few hours in recent years: one was reportedly caused by a technical fault, the other by a winter storm. But there is no precedent for similar-scale heat-related blackouts. And in June, the energy authority said there was ‘no risk of rationing’ electricity, despite high demand. Recent heat-related outages have reportedly been due to municipality or neighbourhood-level infrastructure faults, rather than national energy supply disruption.
We forecast that blackouts are likely to become more common in the coming years. In addition to signs that existing infrastructure struggles to cope, the government does not appear intent on improving it. And growing demand for electricity – in part due to nearshoring, whereby international businesses have relocated to Mexico from Asia – will probably strain energy supplies.
Domestic fossil fuel production and gas imports from the US have proven sufficient in recent years, but the government has reportedly reversed plans to diversify and expand its energy supply. And in June this year, the grid briefly entered a state of emergency due to high demand.
Large blackouts are possible if not probable, next summer, from May to August 2024. Last month, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association stated an El Nino event was underway, with a 56% chance of a strong event. As well as causing wetter-than-average conditions during the northern hemisphere winter, meteorologists cited in international news reports have stated that this will increase the likelihood of above-average temperatures next summer, in 2024. If accurate, Mexico would be likely to experience high temperatures, straining electricity distribution infrastructure and energy supplies.
Image: A group of people try to protect themselves from the intense sun during one of the hottest days in Guadalajara, Jalisco state, Mexico on 12 June 2023. Photo by Ulises Ruiz/AFP via Getty Images.