1/27/2017 - Mean Weather

Twin Sisters, Grant County NM, by Harry BenjaminI admit it. I'm being petulant. I have no defense. I'm complaining.

We have it easy down here in New Mexico near the international border. One of Silver City's themes is "Four gentle seasons," as the image at left (by Harry Benjamin) shows. The worst season is spring—when the wind pounds for days and days—and June, which is hot and harsh until the rains of the North American monsoon rains begin on the 4th of July. After that, summers here are mild. Fall is most agreeable. Winter is short and relatively warm. It doesn't even snow much. Not usually.

2016-17 is different. We were in extreme drought for a couple of years. It seems when a drought ends, it ends in a flood. This year's storms lined up out in the Pacific ocean, waiting to sucker punch us one after the other. Clouds moved in and stuck around. Solar arrays didn't keep up with demand because, well, no sunshine. A normally cheerful and comfortable passive solar home grew sad and cold. This is not the weather we expect.

The 2016-17 winter in southern New Mexico is typical—for the Dakotas. It feels life-threatening when one ventures out to tend the livestock. Snowflakes fine as dust blowing in a 30-knot wind are suffocating. Deep drifts form. Footprints in the snow disappear quickly. Whiteout conditions drive home the lesson that it's possible to get lost between the kitchen door and the barn.

The result is a snowpack in the mountains. We haven't had a snowpack for a couple of years. Our ephemeral streams have dried up earlier in the warm season than they should. That won't be the case this year. This is a good thing.

It started in December with a set of all-night cold rainstorms that soaked the horses—who eschew their dry run-in shed for leaky shelter under the juniper trees, only to be found shivering in the morning. Last summer's monsoon was generous, so the soil wasn't dried out like it had been. The barnyard turned to mud.

Horses under the junipersThe December rain was followed by snowstorms in January—better for the horses because they can shake it off before it soaks in—but creative of mud when the sun comes out. After sunset, hoofprints filled with meltwater during the day, freeze. Water that oozes beneath the soil from the high places turns to icy sheets on the downhill slopes. Walking in the morning is trecherous. Walking in the afternoon is—muddy.

Behind the snowstorms was a clear sky and dry, cold air. Skin becomes chapped and sore from chafing against cold jeans and the stiff, sharp tops of barnboots. Red and irritated rings on my calves remind me of walking barelegged in overshoes in cold, dry weather back when girls weren't allowed to wear pants to school.

This evening and for the last several evenings I am cold, so I climb into my warm bed right after supper. But first I slather thick lotion on my parched skin. It stings in the application, but it will protect me tomorrow.

The temperature is forecast to warm up on Sunday. That will feel good.