|Columbia loaded for trip home- George Swickard|
© 2016 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. After college my first professional job was in television production. The Albuquerque station had a weatherman who was interesting because he was not from New Mexico. The annual spring winds upset him. In fact, when you asked about the next day’s weather anytime during the year he answered, “Windy boy, windy.”
And it is time for New Mexico’s annual spring winds. Some people are quite upset with them while the rest of us usually shrug and go about our business. Sometimes we even find humor in the winds.
A tourist from back east pulled up to a restaurant at the same time as me and was having trouble keeping ahold of his hat. “My God,” he exclaimed with a look of horror at the dust and debris flying by, “Does the wind always blow like this in New Mexico?”
“Nope,” I said and smiled. “Sometimes it comes from the other direction.” The man was shocked by the violence of the dust. I could not resist. “But the wind right now isn’t blowing enough to pick up scorpions and rattlesnakes so you should be fine. Watch out when the wind really picks up, they can drop right out of the sky.”
The man could not get out of New Mexico quickly enough. Our Chambers of Commerce hate it when we play with the tourists. And in March and April each year there is plenty of wind to play with tourists. The truth is that if you were born in New Mexico and the winds in spring start blowing dust, you will not have a surprised look on your face.
One bright spot if you are heading east. A couple years ago I went from Las Cruces to Roswell almost not using any gas in my truck. I felt pretty good about the wind until I drove back to Las Cruces and almost used a tank of gas.
I feel bad for high profile vehicles since the wind often plays the devil with handling and sometimes even just keeping all four wheels on the ground. Some of the roads in New Mexico are closed in bad dust storms because there can suddenly be zero visibility with the possibility of a big wreck involving many vehicles.
One of the almost lost stories of wind in New Mexico involves the only time when a NASA Space Shuttle landed in our state. More to the point, what is rarely referenced is the windy day before Space Shuttle Columbia landed.
In 1976 Northrup Strip was selected by NASA as a Space Shuttle training and backup landing facility. We now call that facility the White Sands Space Harbor at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. New Mexico was halfway between shuttle landing areas at Edwards Air Force Base in California and the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
STS-3 was launched in March 1982 as a seven-day mission but excessive rain in California flooded the landing area there. So the Northrup Strip at White Sands Missile Range was selected. However, it was spring wind season. On the scheduled landing day, it was a nasty dusty day of high winds and low visibility.
The network news programs showed a New Mexico straight out of a Chamber of Commerce nightmare. It looked like a hurricane except it was dust instead of water. One reporter opined that the Space Shuttle Columbia might never be able to land in New Mexico.
Not so. The next day at about nine in the morning it was a glorious New Mexico morning as if there had never been a dust storm. About twenty thousand people were at the landing strip and millions watched on television as Columbia landed. So we rarely mention the Wind Hall of Fame day that proceeded the landing.
Best way to deal with the wind is to expect the coat of dust and not get too worked up about it. We have been having these dust storms in New Mexico for the last two-hundred and eighty million years, come next August so don’t be surprised.
My advice: get yourself a beverage and stay inside with a good book. It’s going to be windy boy, windy.