Fire, Lightning, Wind and Dust: New Mexico Weather

New Mexico is dry. I was floored when it rained three days ago. But for 11 months out of the year, the air is dry, the sun is bright, the clouds are facetious, and everything’s on fire. 

Smoke plume from the 30,000 acre Silver fire
Smoke fills the horizon

 Such is life in NM. The 10% humidity caused me some pain and suffering for a while, but I seemed to got used to it. I used a lot of normal lotion, which wasn’t the best idea for being out in the sun so much.

Currently, a large chunk of the Gila mountain range is on fire, but thankfully few people live in the area. The Silver fire (named because its near Silver City, NM) is currently at 32,000 acres, making it the biggest fire in the US. From atop a VLA dish, you can see the smoke plume and the long trail of smoke being carried by 30-40 mph surface winds. It’s quite dark in Truth or Consequences.

Aside from the fire, the plains of central New Mexico have a variety of weather, typically involving some kind of dust and lots of wind:

Dust carried aloft by 40 mph winds

We even have tornadoes of dust! (Seriously, some of them are big enough to cause damage):

A particularly strong dust devil with a well defined center column

Then, all of a sudden, it storms:

A snowstorm to the north…it’s a rare event to see precip actually get to the ground.

Above, you see it’s snowing. Snowstorms in the southwest isn’t a myth after all! Just last year, a snowstorm dumped 2′ of snow on Socorro, NM.

Typically though, the air is so dry that any precipitation just evaporates before it hits the ground. This phenomena is called virga, and is the sole reason why the clouds are so facetious. What does hit the ground are tendrils of lightning, graupel — basically mini snowballs from the sky — and hail.

A tendril of lightning betwixt two VLA dishes

In 2004, hail fell with a vengeance:

So its dry, its dusty, windy and usually boring (minus the bits of hail, getting caught in a haboob, and waking up to lightning barrages)…but now is the season for rain. And we’re in dire need. NM has been in a 10 year drout, and wells are drying up like int he community of Magdalena, NM, just east of the VLA.

Locals believe that July 4 is the day which marks the start of the monsoon season…don’t take monsoon to seriously though, it’s not like the monsoons of India and Asia. They may dump 2″ of rain, but that gets sucked up so quickly by the dry, absorbent dust and flora of the mountain ranges that it was like it never happened the next day.

We’ll see what the skies bring.

Sterling Coffey, NØSSC, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com. He is ARRL Youth Editor and an electrical engineering student at Missouri S&T. Contact him at [email protected].

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