The Atacama Desert in Chile, known as the driest place on Earth, is awash with colour after a year’s worth of extreme rainfall.

In another Atacama neighbour to the south of Arica, the average annual rainfall in the city of Antofagasta is just 0.17 cm.

Carlos Aguilar (AFP/Getty Images)

But strong El Niño years can be a rainy boom for the region, located just to the east of the warmest ocean water on the globe. In March, heavy thunderstorms brought 2.43 cm of rain in one day to parts of the Atacama Desert.

Carlos Aguilar (AFP/Getty Images)

This doesn’t seem like that much, but it was a huge rainfall event for the desert — over 14 years of rain in one day. The torrent caused the typically dry Copiapo River to swell far beyond its banks. Flooding killed at least nine people that day.

Carlos Aguilar (AFP/Getty Images)

As El Niño strengthens, so does the rainfall increases across South America. As areas of low pressure swing east into the Andes Mountains, the usually warm waters off the coast provide more than enough water vapour to fuel extreme rainfall events.

The malva (or mallow) flowers on the floor of the Atacama desert bloom every five to seven years, usually coinciding with El Niño. But they have been taking advantage of this year’s particularly rainy conditions, leading to the “most spectacular blossoming of the past 18 years".

Carlos Ruiz (EPA)

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