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Snow With a Side of Chili

January 17, 2012

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Welcome to New Mexico, the land of sunshine, delicious chili and snow. Snow! SNOW! According to the New York Times, we're enjoying some of the best ski conditions in the country.

Let me explain. I grew up in stormy Buffalo, New York, where “Lake Effect Snow” is a dirty word. Occasionally the cold stuff piled up to the windowsill of my second story bedroom.  I escaped to sunny New Mexico and now live 300 miles from the Mexican border. I did not choose to live in the “best snow” in the USA. Nevertheless, here it is—five-foot piles of snow in my yard.

Meanwhile, New Mexico’s central mountains are gleaming white and covered with tourists. My little village is humming as thousands of tourists  trundle down from the slopes, looking for good Margaritas, inexpensive food and, maybe, a chance to go country dancing. For a brief moment, the local economy is sparkling as people get temporary jobs serving the ski resorts and keeping the visitors happy.

Even the local playgrounds are busy. Most tourists go to Santa Fe and Taos for luxury. However, with the nation so snowless, (the first week of January was the nation’s driest on record), visitors are even skiing on the smaller, neighborhood slopes. Our little hill, where the teenagers hang out with their snowboards, and everyone knows each other, had four thousand skiers in a single day. Other tourists found the Native American resorts, like “The Inn of the Mountain Gods” and mixed skiing, casinos and a bit of culture at the same time.  

It has been a strange winter. For most of the season, the cool La Niña in the Pacific, which is supposed to bring cold, stormy weather to the North and warm, dry weather to the South, did just the opposite. Florida had a freeze that threatened its fruit and vegetable crop. Drought-stricken Texas was hit by heavy rain, snow and tornadoes. Desert New Mexico and parts of Arizona have wallowed in snow. There was more December snow in El Paso, on the Mexican border, than in Toronto, Canada!

How much December temperatures departed from normal − (1˚C = 1.8˚F) Red means temperatures are more than 9˚F (5˚C) warmer than normal and dark blue is 9˚F (5˚C) cooler.  SOURCE: USDA/FAS/OGA

The good news is that it is beginning to snow up north. The cold will kill insects, so that your gardens are safer. The snowmelt will bring badly needed moisture to the Midwest. The peculiar winter of 2011/2012 is starting to act a little more normal. That is good news.

Meanwhile, you are welcome to come skiing in the weird New Mexico weather. The snow is powder and the chili is hot!


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Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.

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