I was sitting on the front porch in Llano Largo on Saturday afternoon wearing long underwear, fleece pants, two shirts, a sweatshirt and a fleece hat. Oh, and wrapped in a Pendleton blanket.
It was hovering just above 40 degrees in this corner of Taos County, but how could I go inside? How often do we get the chance in May to sit for hours and watch it rain?
Thunder rumbled through the Peñasco Valley like freight trains and each kaboom sent the horses kicking and racing across the pasture.
Rain for hours, for days, on Memorial Day weekend. Could there have been a more welcome sight?
Yes, cookout plans took a hit, although I can report with 100 percent accuracy that it is possible to drink beer in the rain.
The last time there was this kind of sustained rain over the Memorial Day weekend was 2009, which U.S. Forest Service fire meteorologist Chuck Maxwell could recall immediately when I phoned him this week to try to put last weekend’s weather into some perspective. Maxwell remembered 2009 because he was camping, or at least trying to, in the Jemez.
This year he struck out for northern New Mexico and spent the Memorial Day weekend not too far north of my front porch.
From my vantage point, I could only imagine the mountain peaks in the nearby Pecos Wilderness because they were obscured by low gray clouds. But it didn’t take a weatherman to divine what was happening behind that curtain: snow. All weekend long it was a peek-a-boo, with the curtains closing in on the mountains every few hours, then opening to reveal new layers of bright white powder.
On Sunday, Maxwell took a hike to Williams Lake, at 11,000 feet in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and found 4 inches of fresh snow. “And it snowed on the way out,” he reported.
Maxwell assesses the danger of wildfire in the forests of New Mexico and Arizona for the Forest Service’s Southwest Coordination Center and couldn’t have been more delighted to be hiking in a snowstorm in late May.
The entire Southwest region had been in above normal fire danger, but this weekend’s rain and snow moved at least the northern half of New Mexico – the Sangres, the Zunis, the Sandias and the Manzanos – back to normal.
“Snow is good, rain is good and cold temperatures are good,” he said. “All three is really great. We’re in pretty good shape.”
Sunday morning I awoke to a most unusual sound. The rain had gotten a jump on everyone but the magpies. Out on the porch again, this time in pajamas, I was able to experience that rarity in New Mexico when the rain comes down before the coffee pot’s on.
The weekend proceeded across most of New Mexico in this same fashion: Rinse. Dry. Repeat. So here we are on June’s doorstep with a few inches of additional snow in the mountains and a good, deep soaking rain. The forecast for the next few days also holds the promise of rain. And the start of the monsoon season – praise be to the weather gods that they bring one this year – is only weeks away.
If all this means a better chance for our forests to stay open and healthy and not on fire, I’ll happily stay on the porch wrapped in a blanket all summer.