By: Sharna Johnson
It’s hard to say which is worse: waking up to the windows shaking and dark, dirt-filled skies, or a day that starts out beautiful only to have your hair blown backward when you step outside. Life-long resident, living in Eastern New Mexico for the first time, or just passing through, there is one thing pretty much everybody in the area detests – the wind. It’s pushy, blows dirt in your eyes, moves things around and makes being outdoors generally unbearable. And there’s a whole season of the relentless, miserable stuff. Eastern students may wish for “wind days” so they can pull the covers over their heads and avoid the whole thing all together, but short of a Mediasite option for attending class, get ready, because dealing with the wind is just a fact of life for most of the spring semester.
Why it’s so windy: the science – From about March to the end of April, the windy season plagues New Mexico, particularly portions of the state like the Eastern Plains, where, with grass and flat land as far as the eye can see, there is little to stand in its way.
There is a scientific explanation for the annual windstorms that blow through the state, said Randall Hergert, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. In the winter, the jet stream is able to push south from the states above New Mexico, causing winter storms to pass over the state. But in the spring, Hergert said the jet stream moves north into Colorado and Wyoming, leaving behind “a very strong pressure gradient to the south of them, so that pressure gradient is right where the winds kick through over us.” And kick through they do – February 28, the day before windy season officially began, reported gusts of up to 65 mph wreaked havoc throughout the area, uprooted trees, destroyed property, caused power outages and created other issues for residents. Luckily, in the week since, though still unpleasant, the windy days have been low-key by comparison.
What the forecast means on the ground – Measured in miles per hour, wind is usually described or forecast in speed ranges.
- Up to 15 mph – Breezy to New Mexico folks, winds in this range will kick up dirt, mess up your hair and blow a term paper out of your hand but are otherwise harmless.
- Between 15-35 mph – Yep, it’s windy. In this range, vegetation – tumbleweeds, small shrubbery and trees – and other relatively lightweight items go on the move. Motorists driving large vehicles may have a difficult time fighting the wind on highways, Hergert said, and drivers should give larger vehicles more room and time to maneuver.
- From 35-74 mph – The wind speeds of a tropical storm, these are days you don’t go outside. Strong winds – especially gusts that hit hard and suddenly – can rip limbs from trees, trees and buildings with weak foundations or roots can be leveled, car doors are ripped open, billboards and roof sections blow off and anything not tied down will travel. Low-visibility, blowing debris and difficulty controlling vehicles make driving dangerous.
Survival guide – There really is no way to get around the wind, especially when class is on the other side of campus, but there are a few things that can keep it from completely ruining your day.
- Bad hair days – Don’t even bother styling if you can hear wind outside your windows. Ponytails will help with mild wind but for really windy days, twists, buns and braids are the only way to go. Forget the hat unless you’re ready to watch it bounce down the sidewalk. Opt for a knit cap or hoodie instead, especially with medium to short hair.
- Congestion, headaches and dry, itchy eyes – Full of dirt, dust and pollen, even low winds can destroy the sinuses and kick off allergies. Consider a daily-dose allergy medication, like Claritin or Allegra or go for a low-level, non-drowsy decongestant and acetaminophen combo. Nasal sprays, eye drops and a humidifier at night can also help, but if all else fails, it’s time for a trip to the doctor to get other options.
- Cover, shield and protect – Even if the skies are dark, wear sunglasses or other lenses to protect the eyes. Grains of dirt can scratch and irritate eyes and make navigating the wind both painful and difficult. Pull the drawstring on your hoodie and tie to help shield the face or wrap a light scarf around the face to keep dirt and allergens out of the mouth and nose.
- Lighten the load – Expect a fight from doors and anything you try to carry in your hands or arms. Instead, cinch everything you have to carry into a backpack and keep your hands free. Also, remember that virtual stuff doesn’t blow away. Upload notes, papers and other materials to the cloud storage area of your school email account (OneDrive) and retrieve on your phone or print when you get where you’re going.
- Choose your route – Cut through buildings to reduce time in the wind and choose routes between buildings, trees and other vertical barriers to help block the wind. Allow extra time to get places and be sure to give yourself a minute to compose yourself and fix your hair when you arrive.