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Even in southern New Mexico, this monster storm is no joke

Las Cruces, N.M., ain’t Chicago, where more than 20 inches of snow stranded vehicles on Lake Shore Drive. Still, for southern New Mexico, the storm was serious.
REUTERS/John Gress
Las Cruces, N.M., ain’t Chicago, where more than 20 inches of snow stranded vehicles on Lake Shore Drive. Still, for southern New Mexico, the storm was serious.

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.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 02/03/2011 - 10:20 am.

    Infrastructure? Who needs to spend money on infrastructure? Everybody can stay warm with their lower taxes! Functional electrical grids are one of those stupid liberal things.

  2. Submitted by Addy Free on 02/03/2011 - 11:05 am.

    Ms. Watson, you used the word “sissies” in this article and while I’m sure you meant nothing by it, I’d be appreciative if you would avoid that and other gender role related pejoratives.

    Thanks!

  3. Submitted by Thomas Olson on 02/03/2011 - 02:22 pm.

    Eric makes an important point. But there’s more to it. We’ve lived in Las Cruces for the past couple of years. Our home is super-insulated and we have solar photovoltaics. But even in our “upscale” neighborhood ours is by far the exception–there’s some interest here in energy conservation and renewables–but few, even of those able to afford to do so, will invest in it. Meanwhile the local building industry pushes to further relax already weak building codes. That’s done, they say, as a matter of social concern for the poor who could not otherwise afford housing. The great writer Wallace Stegner once wrote that the west needs “politics to match the scenery.”

  4. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 02/03/2011 - 02:54 pm.

    It’s hard to decide whether post No.2 is a joke, If so, it’s pretty weak.

    More important, it’s always a pleasure to see Cathrine in print (so to speak). Her retirement from the Strib deprived we devotees of regular appearances by one of the best travel writers (or writers of any news)in the business — the kind of writer whose stories you lap up even if the subject isn’t any place you’d ever go.

  5. Submitted by Chris Viken on 02/03/2011 - 03:47 pm.

    As a Minnesota transplant to Tularosa, New Mexico, I appreciate Catherine’s making others aware of what New Mexico is experiencing. I heard references in the national news about the similar situation in Texas, but New Mexico didn’t earn a mention — even as the Governor was declaring a statewide state of emergency.

    Meanwhile, the knowledge gained from avoiding frozen pipes in an old house in Minneapolis is serving me in good stead.

  6. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 02/04/2011 - 08:23 am.

    Heavy demand did not shut down the system. Gas wells froze in west Texas and Colorado. This set off cascading shut downs. If the area had nuclear power, they would have plenty of heat and electricity. It is a poor, rural state with lack of infrastructure all over, especially lack of water, which keeps their population under 2 million for a land area bigger than Minnesota. What the West needs is more water from Alaska, as the Parson Engineering company proposed in the 1960’s, called NAWAPA, North American Water and Power Alliance. Where’s Sarah Palin when you need her?

  7. Submitted by Addy Free on 02/05/2011 - 09:19 am.

    Comment No. 2 was not a joke at all. You only mentioned that it was weak if it was a joke, but in for the sake of clarity I’ll offer that it also wasn’t an argument against the use of the word, merely a request that assumes that Ms. Watson will understand why gendered pejoratives are problematic.

    Obviously the term is useful in this context, but she demonstrates her talent clearly and I suspect she’d have no trouble eliminating its use without damaging her prose.

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