Thursday, April 29, 2010

Weather Update: Still Weird

This morning I had to take a circuitous route to work that involved heading way up north, then looping through the NE Heights, and into my office Uptown. On the way, I saw three bank marquees displaying the temperature. At 8:20 at Menaul and Carlisle it was 71 degrees; 8:40 at Wyoming and Comanche it was 52; and by 8:43 at Wyoming and Indian School it was 62. I have little doubt that these readouts were accurate.

On my 10-mile journey, I passed through three (likely more) climate zones. I want to remind all the folks back home that all of Albuquerque could fit inside the San Fernando Valley one and a half times.

Well, microclimates, anyway. Some might even be nanoclimates. Anyone who has lived and gardened in New Mexico can tell you that this is the key word for understanding the weather here, if such a feat is possible. When winter was settling in last October, I was chatting with a likewise meteorologically-inclined office-mate about how cold it had been getting at night; the conversation went something like this:

Bill: “You say it was 20 degrees last night? When I checked the temps at the airport this morning it said 30. Don’t you live right near there?”
Me: “Well, like a mile or two north of it, yeah – closer to the University, by Girard and Lead.”
Bill: “Oh, ok, you’re on that little hill, then. Yeah, 10 degrees cooler sounds about right for your area.”
Me: “Really? That hill is only like 50 feet tall.”
Bill: “There’s a little corridor there that sucks up a cold air from somewhere. It’s always cooler right there.”

Bill went on to tell me that he and his wife used to live around there, in the University Heights / Nob Hill area, and they would go for walks in the morning. Coming up from the low side of town, nearer the river, they would walk up that little molehill and suddenly have to put on their jackets. So, by my figuring, my micro-climate is about six square blocks large.

The temperatures pulled from any website will probably be wildly inaccurate for your actual location. I’ve gone outside expecting cool air, since Accuweather told me it was about 60 degrees in my current zip code, and found myself sweating under my jacket because it was actually closer to 80. During a storm, one part of town will accumulate snow, while another part doesn’t even get wet.

As someone accustomed to more-or-less coastal weather, this pretty regularly blows my mind (tiny explosions, like champaign bubbles popping). In the Valley, there was a reason that it was more temperate over the hill in the Basin – a range of 3,000-foot tall reasons, actually. San Francisco's excessive hilliness more than justifies the different temperatures around town. But here, you drive along a fairly flat, open cityscape, and then 5 miles later you emerge from your car in different weather. Sure, there is a gradual, steady incline from the Rio Grande to the edge of town at the Sandia Mountains, but it's only about 1000 feet up over 11 miles - not exactly steep. I don’t know the science behind it, so let’s just chalk it up to more of that “enchantment” the state motto references.

Much as I may like the comfort of Vancouver-esque climes, the weather in Albuquerque seems incapable of providing that for me (with the possible exception of summer storms). So, as consolation, the least it can do is to stay bafflingly bizarre. You get an A+ for originality, New Mexico!

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