A cold day in Mexico’s Icebox

Guest post  by Dr. Richard Keen

My first visit to Mexico nearly forty years ago began on an icy note. I boarded the overnight train in Juarez and headed south to warmer climes, or so I thought. The Ferrocarril was unheated, and in the morning I wrote a short entry in my diary: “a miserable ride – frost inside the windows”. As the sun rose south of Chihuahua, the scene was quite unexpected – patches of snow lying in the shade of the Joshua trees and barrel cacti. It was New Year’s Day, 1973. After returning home a few weeks later, I looked up some records of the climate of the Chihuahuan desert, and discovered that I should not have been surprised by finding freezing temperatures and snow in northern Mexico.

Chihuahua, the capital of the large Mexican state of the same name, is the coldest major city in the country – sort of the Minneapolis of Mexico.

Snowfall may occur several times in a winter, and the average daily minimum temperature in January is 2C (36F). It was about 20F when I rode through on the icy train. Listed all-time record lows for different time periods include -10C (18F) on December 10, 1978 (SMN, Servicio Meteorológico Nacional); -11C (12F) (“Climates of the World” in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Yearbook, 1930); -12C (10F) December 29 2003 (Weather Underground daily data since 1975), -15C (5F) at meteorologyclimate.com, and -16C (3F) on mherrera.org. Just a few months ago, on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2010, Chihuahua chilled at -11C (14F).

At the end of January, SMN issued a weather advisory: Intensa masa ártica afectará el Norte de México (you don’t need to read Spanish to get the gist). Snow was predicted for the northern third of the country.

The arctic air mass arrived, and when the cold wave was over a week later, several records were gone. SMN’s “Comunicado de Prensa No. 034-11″ summarized the freeze:

“Cold Front Number 26 led to a sharp drop in temperatures, especially in the mountain regions of Chihuahua, where temperatures fell to -21°C. Meanwhile in Ciudad Juarez minus 18C was recorded, surpassing the record of February 1956, when it reached 15C degrees below zero.”

Juarez, where I boarded the train 40 years earlier, recorded an even zero Fahrenheit, a full 5F colder than the previous low in 1956. Chihuahua maintained its status as Mexico’s coldest major city with a low of -18.5C (-1F), beating all previous records by at least 4 degrees F. The -21C (-5F) was recorded at a somewhat smaller city in the hills west of Chihuahua, Temosachic. Numerous other records are listed in the SMN Comunicado.

Although the historic cold wave set cold records in many of northern Mexico’s largest cities, it did not set a record for the country as whole. The listings of extremes on http://www.meteorologyclimate.com and http://www.mherrera.org list Mexico’s coldest reading as -28.5C (-19F) at Valerio in January 1949, but flag the record as “unofficial, suspicious, taken in a sinkhole”. Runner-up record lows include Los Lamentos -28C, San Juanito -27C, and La Rosilla -26.2C (-15F). The last location is in a high valley (2750 meters, 9000 feet) in the neighboring state of Durango. La Rosilla reached -20C (-4F) on February 5, 2011 – cold, but not a local record. Apparently the coldest air was too shallow to reach the high valley. Lows around -18C (zero F) have occurred several times this winter in La Rosilla, and apparently the town has a reputation as the “Frostbite Falls” of Mexico.

La Rosilla, Durango: Mexico’s Icebox

A final note:

From “The Chihuahua FAQ”, http://www.k9web.com/dog-faqs/breeds/chihuahuas.html

“Owners must be very sensitive to the fact that short-haired Chihuahuas, and even long-haired ones, are vulnerable to the cold. In temperatures of 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit, I would recommend dressing your Chihuahua in a special dog sweater for brief walks. Walking your Chihuahua in temperatures below 35 degrees Fahrenheit is strongly discouraged, especially when there is a wind-chill factor.”

The native habitat of these dogs has been as much as 20C colder than the dogs’ rated temperature of 2C. If the unusual cold persists, should Chihuahuas be deemed endangered, thus warranting international efforts to raise the global temperature for the sake of this remarkable species?

Information sources:

Servicio Meteorológico Nacional, Mexico:

http://smn.cna.gob.mx/

Normals, means and extremes for Chihuahua:

http://smn.cna.gob.mx/climatologia/normales/estacion/chih/NORMAL08165.TXT

http://smn.cna.gob.mx/climatologia/normales/estacion/chih/NORMAL08109.TXT

http://smn.cna.gob.mx/climatologia/normales/estacion/chih/NORMAL08147.TXT

Chihuahua weather for February 4, 2011:

http://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/MMCU/2011/2/4/DailyHistory.html

Temosachic weather for February 4, 2011:

http://www.wunderground.com/history/station/76220/2011/2/4/DailyHistory.html

(click on the tabs to get weather for other dates and years)

Mexican news story about the cold:

http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/742483.html

Mexico’s coldest spot, La Rosilla:

http://www.elsiglodetorreon.com.mx/noticia/257492.la-rosilla-esta-entre-el-frio-y-el-olvido.html

http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Rosilla

http://www.larednoticias.com/chihuahua/noticias.cfm?n=57440

Climate of Mexico (1930):

http://docs.lib.noaa.gov/rescue/mwr/Suppl/no33-1930.pdf

Mexico snow blog (MÉXICO Ciudades con nieve):

http://www.skyscrapercity.com/archive/index.php/t-405918.html

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25 Responses to A cold day in Mexico’s Icebox

  1. Mike McMillan says:

    Didn’t know dogs had rated temperatures, but then I never checked the labels.

    The low temps might have something to do with dry air and clear night skies. Definite need for more greenhouse gasses.

    I used to fly into Guadalajara back when. It was far enough south it never got too cold, and high enough elevation it never got too hot. Same thing for Guatemala City (except when the volcano was running).

  2. Shevva says:

    Come on global warming your needed to save the Chihuahuas from freezing to death. Maybe someone could put up a survey over at RC, you now have a choice in your war on humans save the Chihuahua or save the polar bears? but it must be pointed out you can’t save both in your models.

  3. vukcevic says:

    OT !
    [snip . . indeed it is]

  4. Bryn Thomas says:

    My 17yr old Chihuahua has just read this article and thanks her ancestors for migrating to the more temperate climes of Sydney Australia.

  5. rbateman says:

    So that’s what really happened to the Maya !!
    No, really, the press is still reluctant to carry stories of cold waves. This one wasn’t as bad as the S. American one that ripped all the way to Bolivia last summer, but then Antarctic air is the King of Cold.

  6. Patrick Davis says:

    From what I see on news coverage lately, it looks cold in the ME and North Africa too.

  7. Ed Moran says:

    Mike McMillan,

    You should at least check the best before” date.

  8. Ben Hillicoss says:

    “Holy frozen chihuahuas Batman, Its time to release the dogs of climate war”

    In a warming world, central America COOLS??? Puulleeaase.

  9. renminbi says:

    I love Chihuahuas. They have good dispositions are affectionate and generally do not shed much. Nasty ones are much less common than in the past-that part has been bred out to a good extent.

  10. Tom T says:

    Do Siberian Huskies have a rated temperature?

  11. Elizabeth says:

    I am on tenterhooks awaiting the magic AGW bullet to explain all of the record cold temperatures we have been seeing in the past few months.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    March is in like a lion here in northwestern Alberta: http://www.weatheroffice.gc.ca/jet_stream/index_e.html

    However, Environment Canada misplaced its dark blue blob. The temperature here is currently sitting at -34C.

  13. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:

    So to save the Chihuahuas, as well as Mexican crops, the US-Mexico border wall will have to be tall enough to keep the cold up north?

  14. Ted says:

    Got me wandering?

    The whole Northern Hemisphere is defiantly in a prolonged cooling/freezing cycle. Can somebody tell me when the global temperatures for 2011 are tallied, adjusted, manipulated and finally put through the NASA GISS BOOSTER SPIN WASH CYCLE. Snarc off
    Shorely we are going to see a drop of in Global temperatures for 2011, even the most in your face warmist must recognize this cooling cycle is significant and the fact it has covered a huge area of the Earth for such a prolonged time?
    Explanations and comment would be seriously appreciated.
    Thanks.
    Ted.

  15. Douglas DC says:

    One of the toughest ,bravest dogs I ever had was this little Chihuahua I inherited from my Granpa. 1/4 rat terrier, he was also the dumbest dog I ever had. Totally fearless,he would take on dogs 10 times his size. He would sleep out in a NE Oregon
    snowstorm, if one forgot to bring him in. He had a dog house that he didn’t use btw.
    He would take on Skunks, Porcupines, and Feral Cats, usually to his detriment.
    Loved fresh Cow Manure, (think stinky, green, Chiapet Chihuahua )to roll in. He loved to dash inside to roll on the rug when he did that. All in all he lived to be 17 years old.
    died in his sleep. My Pop said-‘He was too ornery to die young…”
    More on topic, I had a friend who was an Airplane mechanic, he was from the Chihuahua state, he always talked about how cold it was there. Now I know…

  16. Staffan Lindström says:

    March 1, 2011 at 3:06 am rbateman … according to Metsul, it even passed the equator, into the NH…in N Brazil…if I am not mistaken…Not so much ice around Antarctica right now…

  17. Steven Hoffer says:

    Below average everywhere.

    Here in Winnipeg its currently 17 degrees below average. If it doesnt warm up soon we won’t get enough warm days to grow our 56 day peas.

    at the rate the world is warming, we’re going to need 45 day peas in no time.

  18. John Hume says:

    I’m watching spring training in Arizona and they’re all in short sleeves. Is it just a cold snap coming in from the pacific?

  19. Steve from rockwood says:

    Weather is a funny thing. I just returned from Saltillo, Mexico, a moderate size city located well inside the above map suggesting snow. Temperatures averaged +35 during the day (celsius). One day we had +39. My Mexican friends refer to February as the crazy month. I should add that the elevation of Saltillo is about 6,000 ft. It wasn’t much cool in Monterrey.
    We used to have a Chihuahua named Pico. A great little dog of 4.5 lbs that looked after our two great Danes. Pico couldn’t be left outside in the winter for more than a few minutes. Last summer, we let her outside and an owl swooped down and stole her away.
    Interestingly I didn’t see a single wind turbine or solar panel while in Mexico. I did see quite a few new production facilities in Monterrey though, including what looked liked car plants. If you want to see what global warming is really doing to the US, just head south across the border.

  20. Deborah says:

    @ Tom T
    When I first got my Siberian Husky I read that they can withstand temps of -60 F. Considering the harshness of Siberian winters, I think I’d believe that. My dog certainly enjoyed all of his 12 winters. Though he only enjoyed summer when the A/C was on.

  21. kfg says:

    I’ve never been to Chihuahua, but I well remember “enjoying” a thoroughly miserable weekend in Tampico in the fall of ’69. The following week Veracruz was at least tolerable, but not exactly toasty either. Didn’t find the warm until I crossed over to the Pacific side.

    Sir Steve of Rockwood – An American car company is going to be building Italian cars there. It’s a Brave New World, so shut up, eat your SomaZoloft and be grateful.

  22. Richard Keen says:

    My old husky-wolf didn’t seem to mind the -36F we had once when he was young, but he became an indoor dog with age. Now we have a little Eskie who likes to run in the snow for a few minutes until her paws get cold. Then she lifts her paws from the ground one by one until all four are in the air. Don’t know how she does it! She also high centers in snow more than half a foot deep. But she’s from Oklahoma, where it never gets colder than -31F.
    The cat has none of these problems sleeping on the bed.

  23. Brian H says:

    Wild native Chihuahuas are surely cold-adapted, and smart enough to get under cover. Pet ones, not so much.

  24. Stanwilli says:

    We were in Northern Mexico during the freeze of February 2011. We rode the Copper Canyon Train from El Fuerte to Creel (and back). We expected it to be cold in the mountains, but the killing frost at sea level at Los Mochas was a big surprise. And a devastation of the agriculture industry in the area. It was low latitude (25° 46′ 0″ N) and a low elevation freeze. The major hotels had heat, but smaller ones had no heat except for possibly a small electric heater. My wife asked for heat at one hotel and received extra blankets. It was cold in Cerocahui and Creel also but the lodge and hotel had heaters. The morning air in Creel was heavy with the smell of smoke from wood burning stoves. At least the El Chepe train was warm!

    It’s another example of how people are being lulled into the thinking the planet is warming up and are unprepared for the cyclical return to colder weather. And the AGW crew is cranking up the climate change rhetoric in the face of large amounts of evidence to the contrary:

    March 1/11 headlines: “Scientists: Global warming to blame for big U.S. snowstorms.”
    Oh my goodness. When will they wake up and smell their own stupidity. We are simply experiencing one of these hard winters of our youth that everyone thought were history, but failed to realize the climate is simply recycling to a colder phase (exacerbated by La Nina and low solar radiation). Blaming unusual climate events on human activity is only a very recent phenomenon. My grandfather’s farm in Southern Saskatchewan dried up and blew away in the early 1930’s and no one blamed “global warming.” It just was.

  25. A Holmes says:

    Has the cold destroyed all the cactus plants ? I would imagine that the water stored in their bodies would freeze and the plants would rupture like frozen pipes , I have to bring my plants indoors over the winter in case the temperature gets down to freezing and they all die – so what happens when whole cactus growing regions go below zero ?

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