Four seasons in your face – all at nearly the same time.
When it’s T-shirt weather, don’t get smug. Take a jacket with you.
When flakes fall, don’t go racing for the snowshovel. It’ll melt soon enough.
Springtime in the Rockies: Isn’t it something?
Highs soar into the 70s one day, creep only into the 40s the next. Within hours, you might experience: Wind, sun, snow, calm, rain, cold, clouds, thunder, hail.
We Southwest Coloradans deal annually with this fickleness. But is this unpredictability all in our minds? Or is there an actual bona fide reason why Southwest Colorado weather is so changeable?
“There is,” Julie Malingowski, a forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction, assured me, instantly corroborating my thesis and becoming my friend.
She actually listed several reasons why Colorado does, indeed, have unsettled spring weather. She didn’t say it this way, but spring is an all-out, glorious battle where cold air clashes with warm air. Really, that’s what makes all weather. But with more sun, snow on the ground, and other factors, spring does have an extra punch.
“The big thing is the jet stream,” Malingowski said.
These air currents several miles above the Earth swing through our neck of the woods at this time of year, then shift farther north for the summer. The jet stream brings cold air from the Pacific Northwest.
She explained how one phenomenon of the jet stream really creates berserk weather here. What happens is the chilly winds from the northwest are moving counter-clockwise, so they pull the warmer, subtropical air from the southwest ahead of a storm, Malingowski said.
Need another reason the weather changes so fast here? Low humidity. As everyone knows, when the sun sets here, the temperature plummets. Doesn’t happen in Florida, for instance.
Perhaps the weather forecaster’s scientific acumen wasn’t necessary to convince you of the whims of spring weather. You’ve seen the winds blow desert dust into our local rain showers and onto your parked vehicles. You’ve seen it snowing even with the sun shining. You’ve dodged armies of tumbleweeds in your car or even on your bike.
Or you’ve been caught in ridiculous weather too crazy to even believe. That’s my story ...
On the Friday before last, the weather forecast for Sunday in Cortez was “sunny” with a high of 70. No discouraging word: Skies would not be cloudy all day.
Sunday found me and three friends playing golf in Cortez.
Anyway, the morning was cool, as mornings are this time of year. At the ninth hole we turned toward a brutal, chilly headwind. By the 13th or 14th, it was raining. At the 16th green, hail was falling. On the 17th fairway ... well, try to imagine finding a white golf ball on a carpet of hailstones.
Just for fun, as hypothermia began to set in and my ears turned cherry red from the beating, we continued to the 17th green, where we putted across this bumpy carpet. There was talk of playing the 18th hole, but we were all wet and miserable and, well, why make golf any more frustrating than it already is?
(Writer’s note: Hang on tight for a potentially jarring sidetrack!)
I always find it funny that Cortez the city was named after Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro (1485-1547), the Spaniard whose expedition destroyed the Aztec empire in 1521. You may know the Aztec empire was centered in present-day Mexico City, not exactly in the neighborhood of present-day Southwest Colorado. Further strangeness: Cortez is in the county of Montezuma, which was named after Moctezuma, the ruler whose city and empire Cortés destroyed.
Cortés was a conquistador. We were playing at Conquistador Golf Course.
It took me a while, but it all adds up. This isn’t in the history books, but don’t try to suggest there’s a hole in this logic:
Cortés loved golf, and just before his siege of Tenochtitlan, a city of an estimated 200,000 that was Moctezuma’s pride and joy, he took a side trip to Southwest Colorado. Say he tried to play golf here in the spring. He was killing it, colloquially speaking, shooting a great round and headed for a personal record. Then came the snow, rain, hail. Maybe he was playing in his armor and feared a lightning strike. For whatever reason, he had to quit, and they didn’t give rain checks in those days.
Obviously, this ordeal put Cortés in a foul mood. When he returned to Mexico, it was deadly hot, which tweaked him that much more, and he took out his growing frustrations on poor Moctezuma.
Anyway, as we drove out of Cortez last Sunday, the bank thermometer read 36 degrees.
Isn’t springtime something?
I’ll leave you with two promises.
Promise No. 1: There are beautiful days ahead.
Promise No. 2: Don’t count on them.
[email protected] John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column and only complains about the weather for the public good.