We all love to tell stories of monster storms. – There was a child who was picked up by a tornado, whirled about and then returned to earth. He ran to his grandma, with dirt up his nose, in his eyes. You can bet he had a changed perspective.
And you know the saying about how lightning never strikes the same place twice? I know of someone who was hit on three occasions. He’s now a preacher.
Then there was a huge blizzard in South Dakota where we couldn’t see across the street and the screaming wind left snowdrifts that didn’t melt until June.
In the 1930s, partly because of the way humans affected the environment, dust storms dropped more than a ton of dirt per acre in many places, suffocating cattle dead in their tracks. When I first moved to Taos, a sudden wind came into the house at night and blew my grandmother’s plates from the shelves. The beautiful old things I was attached to were all shattered, my past swept away.
We have the best weather in the universe here in northern New Mexico, and that means – besides 350 sunny days a year – incredible clouds, wind, lightning and storms. No, I don’t work for the chamber of commerce. It’s just the plain truth for a girl from South Dakota who needs, shall we say, a certain element of drama. Keep in mind that in South Dakota the weather had been known to change more than 100 degrees in a 24-hour period and the wind mostly never stops. I develop an existential headache when visiting southern California. It’s not just the car and consumer culture, it’s the monotonous perfect weather.
Give me bad weather any day but not every day. The change in weather can wake you up to the certain knowledge that there is no certainty, no permanence. In Taos, people claim they came here for the light. But the light is more than the dramatic interplay of lightning, clouds, hail or rain. It is a psychic light as well. What could be better than sitting in the back of a pickup smelling the delicious smell of oncoming rain, feeling the wind move through your hair, and watching the lightning strike Taos Mountain, while curtains of cloud, gray, silver, charcoal, ivory and black, like torn tissue paper, move over the land?
Here in New Mexico storms are our bread and butter, literally as well as emotionally. They fill the rivers and irrigation ditches in summer, load up the mountains in winter, nourish ski trails. Whatever they leave behind supplies runoff for spring farming, cattle, wild creatures and river running. Storms can make or break ranchers, outfitters and resort owners alike.
Weather here more often comes in from the west and tends to move counterclockwise. The weather heading in from Baja means wetter snow, although sometimes we’ll get a particularly cold front from Alaska or one bumping down the Colorado Rockies. If you’re waiting for the powder dump, look to the mountain, and observe the cloud formations. If clouds are piling up, begin thinking up an excuse to get off work tomorrow.
You, too can predict weather. While there are huge remote weather stations beeping back temperature, humidity and dew points from satellites to help divine national weather patterns, Wilbert Rodriguez, a local forest service techniciain, suggests you skip the weather forecasts, even though they can be entertaining. He advocates that people might pay attention to their barometers, their bones or their horses. Horses frolic, he reports, when the barometer drops, indicating a possible storm. Some peoples’ aching bones are good predictors.
Low pressure and high pressure systems are all a part of it. While living in Bavaria, I quickly learned that when the “foehn” – a destabilizing low pressure system – was coming through, it gave people headaches and worse. It was a factor to be taken into consideration if you, say, murdered your lover. The “foehn” was an excuse for extreme behavior, rather like the Twinkie defense, which suggests that if you’ve eaten that many of them of course you want to kill someone. Weather can make us crazy or heal what ails us.
Chemically we can explain it in terms of negative ions and other stuff. Our bodies just know that it contributes to that sense of animal well-being, like a survival rush. After a storm, we feel renewed.
New Mexicans are a people of the sky, of storm clouds gathering, of wind to clear us, light to cheer us, and dark to remind us that there is always a shadow side. We revel in the buildup of big white billowy, blowsy clouds. The sky may be bullet proof blue most of the time but it can change in a heart beat. The storm brings water to the ditch, green to the field and five-foot powder dumps to the ski areas that leave us giggling in the trees…
An excerpt from an article by Michelle Potter that appeared in Ski Country 2000.