Bitter Cold

Last week, the governor of New Mexico declared a state of emergency due to conditions created by a unexpected bout of extremely cold weather.

Three Cool Originals

Jim and I were luckier than many in that we never lost our heat. We did have pipes freeze, but since these were a relatively new type – they look more like garden hose than what I think of as “pipe” – we didn’t have any breakage.

We’d gone to Arizona over the previous weekend. On the drive out, without ever exceeding the speed limit, we’d made record time. Afterwards, we realized this was because there had not been a single segment of road under repair – a dubious benefit of the economic downturn.

The way home was another matter. Shortly before we crossed the New Mexico/ Arizona border, we encountered snow flurries. These didn’t trouble us. In fact, they gave us one of the prettiest images from the drive – a long train emerging car by car from the swirling snow.

By Gallup, we were having second thoughts. Snow was swirling around in all directions, including up from the pavement, causing almost total white-out conditions. When we’d stopped for lunch in Winslow, we’d still had a half-tank of gasoline, but now we really needed to get fuel.

At the gas station, we compared notes with other drivers. No one had any idea where this storm had come from, how far it extended, or if it was expected to quit soon. (Later, we’d learn it was one of those systems the meteorologists had underestimated). In any case, by the time we moved toward the highway again, the three or so inches of snow had vanished, leaving wet, shiny pavement.

New Mexico is known for unpredictable weather. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve stood on one side of the street in the sun and watched rain hit the pavement on the other side. So we figured this was just one of those freak storms and we’d drive out of it soon enough.

We couldn’t have been more wrong. Some two hundred miles of driving through intermittent blizzard later, we limped into our little street. We’d seen more smash-ups than I can recall – and I wondered how many we missed because there were times we could barely see the shoulder of the road.

A steel I-beam had dropped off a truck a few lengths in front of us. Only Jim’s attentiveness to a sudden deviation in the tail-lights of the vehicle in front of us (we couldn’t see the vehicle) kept us from hitting it. I’m sure there were pile-ups behind us.

In fact, only Jim’s absolute patience got us home intact. This was one of those really strange storms. Accumulation wasn’t great, but the wind kept everything that had fallen in constant motion. We kept on the right and drove slowly. Over and over again, vehicles whose drivers apparently thought black pavement was “safe” blew by us on the left, coating us with snow. Several times, we saw one of those vehicles on the shoulder further ahead.

Why didn’t we stop for the night? First, there really aren’t that many places to stop. Once you leave Gallup, you travel through relatively empty country until Grants. Don’t be deceived by place names on maps. Many of these indicate areas that don’t even have a gas station. Second, a few times we couldn’t even see the exits.

When I said above that we “limped” into our street, I meant it. We turned the corner and were greeted with a horrible grinding sound. Stopping the car and getting out, we discovered a large chuck of compacted ice and snow had dropped from the under-carriage and was wedged between the tire and the frame. Almost a week would pass before the car stopped calving chunks of dirty ice.

Why? Because we came home in blizzard to arctic temperatures. Wednesday was simply freezing. Thursday, temperatures dropped to zero at night, not rising above freezing during the day. Our little pond in the backyard turned into an ice sculpture.

By Saturday, temperatures finally rose above freezing for more than a short period of time. However, I’ll admit, we didn’t feel very ambitious. I’d planned to start seeds indoors for pepper plants, but seeing that they only germinate when the soil is fairly warm, I put that off. I wasn’t certain the seed tray would stay above seventy even in the sun.

So we decided to run necessary errands and otherwise stay close to home. Our friends Sue and Hilary Estel came over. I made brownies and coffee and the four of us played with our huge box of mixed Legos, escaping from winter cold and grey into bright colors and exotic images.

The picture above shows the clever designs Jim (the vehicle), Hilary (the space-age bar) and Sue (the space-port in white) made. Sometimes it’s nice to be forced to slow down – but I’ll admit, I prefer to do so at home rather than creeping along on the highway.

9 Responses to “Bitter Cold”

  1. Nicholas Wells Says:

    Sounds like mini adventure to me. Stressful during, yet perhaps remembered with fondness later.

    And yes, I do believe you about the strange weather. In my area I’ve driven a few yards up to an on-ramp and onto the freeway a few times, going from bone dry, to utter downpour, then back to bone dry before I ever hit the freeway itself.

    Here’s hoping you stay warm and safe out there.

  2. heteromeles Says:

    Congratulations to Jim for some heroic driving!

  3. Ann M Nalley Says:

    I love weather stories, and this was a great one! Here is Maryland a year ago we had two enormous snow storms back to back. As Nicholas said above, stressful at the time, but creating wonderful memories. I’m so glad you and Jim arrived home safely, and kudos to Jim for his amazing calm and patience during the drive!

  4. Alan Robson Says:

    That sounds very scary. I find it hard to imagine snow in your part of the world (“Brown!”) and I’m sure it must be something you are not used to seeing. And of course it is high summer here in NZ and the skies are blue, the temperatures are balmy and the weeds in the garden are flourishing, which makes it even harder to imagine white stuff falling out of the sky.


  5. Paul Says:

    I second (or “third,” I guess) the amazement at Jim’s calm driving in the face of blizzards, steel beams, stranded motorists and all the rest. Some of those ’60s SF novels of extreme weather conditions seem to be coming true — an SF prediction I didn’t particularly want to see happen. I guess you can’t pick and choose what comes true.

  6. Patrick Doris Says:

    I have driven in those conditions more than once as Nichols said they are more enjoyable well after the fact. Give Jim our thanks and congratulations on making a safe journey.

  7. janelindskold Says:

    I’ll pass all your kind comments on to Jim.

    Meanwhile, I’m feeling a great desire to be able to get outside and do yardwork… I’m not fond of being cold.

    This time last year I had everything ready to go. Now I’m concerned that the winds (our version of Spring) will arrive before I can.

    Ah, well, worrying about the weather is pretty useless, but in New Mexico trying to predict the weather is insane.

  8. Susan Says:

    And soon it will be over–the robins were here in Ohio about 2 weeks ago already–we just have to be patient. We had about 20 inches of snow in our area this winter and sleet. Sometimes I think winter is given to us to us to help us appreciate the beautiful Spring weather when it arrives. Happy Valentines Day Jane!

  9. janelindskold Says:

    I wish New Mexico did “beautiful Spring weather,” but sadly it does not.

    New Mexico does high winds instead. I suppose the trade off is we get robins all year. We have a few in the winter, a rush through starting about this time — probably beginning migrations — and then residents all summer and autumn.

    Happy Valentines to you all…

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