LAS CRUCES, N.M. — This city in extreme southern New Mexico got about three inches of snow Tuesday night, as the tail end of the monster storm swept through the region.
Weathermen here and in El Paso had been going nuts all day Tuesday and into the evening, warning people to stock up on food, cover their horses, put more protein in their livestock feed, bring in their dogs and, if you don’t have enough blankets, sleep in your clothes.
As a cold-hardened Minnesotan, I thought they were sissies.
I was wrong. This may not be much snow in our terms, but it is no joke here. And the problem is much bigger than people just being unaccustomed to driving on icy roads.
I’m writing this about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night, and the lights just came back on after being out for an hour and a half. It was the second black-out today.
The apartment I’m renting — in an obviously unsuccessful attempt to escape winter back home — has electric heat and not much insulation. When the lights go out, the heat goes off too. I didn’t mind so much this morning.
But tonight, as outside temperatures dropped to 3 degrees above zero, it was unnerving to feel how fast my rooms got really cold.
Winter temperatures here normally run in the 40s and 50s by day, about 25 at night, and people understandably weren’t prepared. (For real heat, a woman in my exercise class said when the storm was first forecast, “you have to go to Arizona.”)
Trying to stay warm
The reason for these blackouts isn’t ice damage to the lines, as it might be at home. It’s heavy demand for electricity from households trying to keep warm.
Nearby Texas is hurting too. Blackouts rolled across the state throughout the day Wednesday, El Paso TV reported. Power companies, pressed beyond capacity, have been shutting power off in some places in order to keep it going other places, then turning those off and still others on.
In Las Cruces, all government offices — city, state and federal — were closed today, as well as all public schools, the two community college branches and New Mexico State University. They’ll stay closed through today.
El Paso’s mayor has asked all large employers to shut down today to reduce electricity demand, and both cities are urging residents to turn off as many electrical lights, appliances, devices, etc., as possible, “to share electricity.”
Fire-fighters are bracing for extra problems too, because house fires become more likely as people get desperate, which is why one TV station warned, “Do not attempt to heat your house with your kitchen stove!”
In El Paso, the city has opened “warming shelters” — and assigned police officers for protection — for people who don’t have heat at all. Mostly, those are the poor. This is a poor corner of the nation anyway, and poor families are suffering the most.
It’s worse across the border in Juarez, Mexico, where more people live in poverty and the utilities are less able to cope.
The thermometer is nearing zero as I’m finishing this, and it isn’t forecast to rise above freezing until Friday.
This ain’t Chicago, I know, but down here, this seemingly mild storm is serious indeed.