September 8, 2015 / 9:05 PM / 5 years ago

Heavy rains soak Brazil's parched southeast coffee, cane belt

SAO PAULO, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Heavy, widespread rains are drenching southeastern Brazil, bringing relief to the region’s coffee and sugar cane plantations while refilling hydroelectric and drinking water reservoirs ravaged by two years of drought.

Rains started over the weekend in the southern grain states of Rio Grande do Sul and Parana before pushing into Sao Paulo on Monday and intensifying through Tuesday. Sao Paulo is the world’s leading sugar cane producer and a major coffee grower.

By Tuesday afternoon, sheets of rain stopped traffic, felled trees and put out lights across the city of Sao Paulo. The downpour will help refill the city’s reservoirs in the Cantareira basin, which has fallen over 80 percent in three years.

Many residents of Brazil’s biggest city have learned to go without municipal water from around 4 p.m. until 8 a.m. as officials resorted to emergency measures to conserve water. Many homes make do with cisterns to bridge the evening outages.

Local meteorological firm Somar expects the slow-moving front to continue to dump precipitation over the southeast through the rest of the week.

The front is pushing a wall of rain slowly northward into Minas Gerais, the world’s leading coffee-producing state, which accounts for half of Brazil’s annual output.

Harvesting is almost done there, and the rain should give a strong, early start to the annual flowering season that will turn into the 2015/2016 crop.

Sugar and ethanol mills in the interior of Sao Paulo said harvesting of the cane crop, now more than half-finished, has been halted by the rains that hit much of the state as well as areas of Mato Grosso do Sul to the west.

With moisture from the Amazon combining with cooler air from Argentina, the rains are expected to spread through the center-west grain states just as the region prepares to plant a record soybean crop. Planting of the corn crop has already begun in many regions across the grain belt.

Radar from IPMet weather service linked to the University of Sao Paulo (here) showed rains pushing through the state, leaving 12-25 millimeters (0.5-1 inches) of rain per hour.

Data from Inmet, a weather service linked to the federal government, showed only limited showers in Minas Gerais so far. (Reporting by Reese Ewing; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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