Arctic front in Southern NM and Far West TX

desertlvrJanuary 31, 2011

So much for a La Nina, "warmer and drier than average" winter. Well, they got the dry part right. With the expected cold snap in Las Cruces/ El Paso, with record lows not seen in > 20 years, there are going to be a lot of dead palms by end of this week. I'm going to have to reassess my "zone pushing". It's going to get very expensive, with Sabal Mexicanas, Washingtonias, Butiagrus Nabonnandii, all of which have been in the ground for years, sailing unscathed through previous winters. At least my B. Capitatas, Chamaerops, and Rhapidophyllum hystrix should make it through......working out of town, so there's not much to do......

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nmgirl(8 S.NM)

It's going to be interesting seeing what makes it through this cold.
Don't know if you're down in the valley or where, I'm on the edge of the east mesa off of Hwy. 70. I've been watching my neighbor's huge oleander hedge suffer this winter. It's not happy. I've got all my outdoor pots tucked up next to the south side of the house. They've been outside all winter but it sure won't hurt to give them some shelter.
Hope your palms make it through better than forecast.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2011 at 12:08PM
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We're in Las Cruces and wondering if this will do in our 40' Washingtonia robusta, after all these years. (That won't be fun to take down.) I have a little greenhouse full of succulents, so most of my potted patio plants are crammed in there (sideways) but I know I'll lose some plants in the ground. Darn...we have only been here five years, didn't expect to see this.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2011 at 8:27PM
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nmgirl(8 S.NM)

Hi mudhouse, I grew up here in LC and this cold happens on a fairly regular but infrequent, if that makes sense, basis. Newbies won't believe us natives and will "zone push" their plants and then zap! we have weather like this. Hate to see folks lose plants but it's hard not to at least snicker. We warned you!
But that's the gamble with non-native plants. Just 'cuz we're in a desert doesn't mean it doesn't get cold.
I remember a Spring sandstorm, back when I was in elementary school, that was so bad they closed the schools early. The sun was a little yellow dot and most of the new crop seedlings were scoured off at ground level, windows and glass doors were sand pitted, cars had ruined paint. I got to walk home from school that day, yuck. And this was in the 60's, not the Dust Bowl.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 11:01AM
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Even though I am somewhat of a zone pusher, I have carefully selected species which are reliably hardy to Zone 8 --- it's just that this current record snap is 6a/7b! and I am out of town, so I can't protect them. Maybe I will replace them with more native species...... lots of beautiful yuccas which are hardy to zone 6....

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 10:02PM
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I took this picture of Washingtonia filifera in Truth or Consequences in 2004. Judging by their size they must have been at least 30 years old then I would think. There's also a large W. robusta just down the street from these... and at least one big W. filifera in Alomogordo. They've been there for decades and while this may be pushing the limit they've certainly endured temperatures close to this in the past. All this to say, many palms in southern NM will certainly lose all their leaves, but should not be written off as a loss until spring comes along. Much will grow back, and keep growing for many years to come, so don't be too hasty to chop them down!

    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 4:34PM
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That's encouraging. Our W. robusta is very close to our house and I dread taking it down. We'll definately give it lots of time and keep our fingers crossed.

At 2:30AM the Wunderground website was showing a current temp of -4.6F for our neighborhood. A friend of mine in Las Alturas area monitored -6F on her weather station. Surely this is pushing the limit. I was lucky the two 1500w heaters in my little greenhouse were able to hold the gh at 37F (I aim for 45F minimum). I didn't have any losses inside the greenhouse, thank goodness.

I was also lucky El Paso Electric didn't do a rolling brownout during the wee morning hours. They've been taking our power down at least twice each evening the last two days. Quite the adventure...

    Bookmark   February 4, 2011 at 12:36AM
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Hi all,

Well, the cold front ending up being even stronger than the ones that you're familiar with in the past, NMgirl! At least in some places...

Below are some of the low temp readings I got from the National Weather Service, notice that most are 20 or 30 degrees below the average annual minimum temp (ie. the Plant Hardiness Zone, using the 2006 Arborday map), and in some cases are ALL TIME LOWEST RECORDED TEMPERATURES. In some places we're not likely to see this again in our lifetimes.

El Paso 1
Las Cruces 0
T or C -6

Albuquerque -7 (some parts of town to -18!)
Roswell -11

Santa Fe -18
Taos -22
Moriarty -34

Another thing:
According to climatologists, global temps have been FALLING for the past year, and are now around the long term average. They are expected to continue to decline. The last time this happened was due to Mt Pinatubo, and brought the record lows of 1990. Climatologists don't generally believe in global warming caused by carbon emissions because they are so familiar with all the wobbles in global temps over time and the many variables other than carbon that are involved.

But my real question is: will those marginal plants like T or C's palms survive this, and if so, can we then say they are really hardy to -6 once established?

stay warm!

    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 1:32PM
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Sorry for my math errors in the above posting...

It should say 10 to 20 degrees below the average annual minimum temp range, not 20 to 30. Moriarty's incredible -34 degrees would be 24 degrees below the average annual minimum temp range of 0 to -10 for zone 6, for example.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 2:27PM
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Just got back home and am assessing the damage. It appears that our W. Filiferas will survive, not sure about the W. Robustas. Mexican Blue palms (Brahea Armatas) look surprisingly good. I agree with Ian above: no point in doing anything until Spring, except spray the crowns with a fungicide to prevent rot. Off to the nursery for that......

    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 3:19PM
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nmgirl(8 S.NM)

As usual the Weather Service is, well, not wrong but not correct either. Their "official" station is out west up on the mesa. They always read 3-6 degrees higher than town.
There were documented temps below 0 in and around Las Cruces with this system. We had a -4 on our covered south facing back porch! I heard there were reports of -9 nearer the mountains.
Burst pipes all over town and in the dorms at the university. One of my daughter's friends is camping out with us, her dorm is flooded, there's no reliable heat and the on-campus food service is barely functioning.(Insert traditional joke about the poor quality of campus food.)
Lots of very sad plants here. I drove around town a bit to check on our token saguaros and plantings of cereus. Most of them look very shaky, some of them have already given up. Loads of dead and dying palms, cacti are turning into spiny patches of goo. Oleanders look fried, all the new growth on the Mexican Elders is no longer with us. It'll be interesting to see how the Palo verdes respond to this extreme cold.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 4:40PM
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I forgot to include the picture of those palms. But I'm sure some of you have already seen them.

The Albuquerque NWS office produced this chart:

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 12:53PM
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Wow, thanks ian_wa, that's a great chart!
And I was stupidly doing everything manually!

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 1:17PM
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nmgirl(8 S.NM)

The chart says 2010. Just a typo I'm assuming?
Nice palms.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 11:59PM
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That must surely be a typo - good eye! I didn't make the chart, I just found it on the Albuquerque NWS web site.

How are the palms looking in Las Cruces, all crispy and brown yet??

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 1:49AM
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nmgirl(8 S.NM)

Crispy, crunchy, brown, starting to peel apart and crumble. The high winds yesterday didn't help.
It will be interesting to see how landscapes look this season. I bet the garden centers will have a great year, if they can get plants.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 9:16AM
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Is this about the time that we start wishing global warming was happening more quickly? I'm being a bit sarcastic, but not completely...

My theory is that gardeners are not as concerned about increasing temperatures where they live as some other people, at least those of us living in cold places. I have my Master's in Environmental Studies, and I would still take global warming over global cooling any day. Don't get me wrong, there can be loads of negative effects from global warming, apart from the temperature increase, and there's no question that humans have demonstrated an amazing ability to mess up the planet, but last week's cold is surely no friend of the gardener.

Unfortunately, the latest long range forecasts are for 3 to 4 out of the next 5 winters to be COLDER than the current one, and the next 20 to 30 years to be much colder than the last 20 to 30. Yikes! Just when the post 1970's zone maps are being generated, we might be needing to go back to the old versions.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 12:59PM
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nmgirl(8 S.NM)

Climate change is a natural, normal event.
I wonder how the folks that were caught in the last "mini ice age" felt? Those gardeners probably lost plants too!

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 9:19AM
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Yeah, imagine not having a single month without a frost, as in New England and Northern Europe during their "Little Ice Age". Talk about crop failures!

It strikes me that drought seems always to be such a popular explanation for the collapse of ancient settlements (Chaco Canyon, Wupatki, The Mound Builders, etc...) but what about a cold spell? Even a slightly shorter growing season a few years in a row could have been disastrous for civilizations dependent on a few long-maturing crops (such as corn, beans, and squash). This kind of event would even look similar to a drought in the tree ring record!

Just crazy brainstorming brought on by the equally crazy weather!

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 9:56AM
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nmgirl(8 S.NM)

Very interesting point about a cold spell causing a population to abandon an area. Even in "our" time, relatively speaking, cold spells have brought famines. England and Europe suffered through successive abnormal weather induced famines in the...early 1300's? Late 1200's?...
Ah phooey, I have to go look it up to be certain, but the weather did cause repeated crop failures.
Makes one pause, ponder and realize the same thing could happen at any time.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 11:15PM
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Probably more precise to talk about 'climate change' rather than 'global warming', although 2010 was warmest year on record. The high pressure and subsequent warmer temperatures over Greenland pushed the frigid air into Europe in December, with devastating results to plants and humans alike. The high pressure over the arctic this month pushed the cold air down over most of U.S. This oscillation is thought to be due to climate change, meaning could happen again sooner rather than later. Gives me pause about what to replant: all of my natives were untouched................

    Bookmark   February 12, 2011 at 4:09PM
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You're right, 'climate change' is the more precise term of the two. It's a bit silly though, because has 'climate stability' really ever existed?

You inspired me to check out some data on 2010 at NOAA. 2010 is listed as tied with 2005 as warmest global temperature, (and 23rd warmest in US) both during el nino events. To demonstrate the complexity of the situation though, consider these facts:

-- 2010 Arctic sea ice experienced record longest growing season by March, THEN shrank to 3rd smallest extent during summer, THEN grew to 3rd largest extent ever starting in September!
-- 2010 Drought footprint in US was the smallest ever recorded!
-- As desertlvr described so well above, Arctic Oscillation (high pressure of the North Pole), reached record strength, bringing all that cold air south.

The moral of the story? There's a lot we don't know, and can't predict about how climate works, especially now...

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 5:11PM
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Here's an exciting photo tour (not mine) of all the dead palms in El Paso. Notice.. this like will likely expire in 3-4 days so enjoy it while you can!

Here is a link that might be useful: dead frozen palms etc.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 11:50PM
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nmgirl(8 S.NM)

Great photo tour. Sad of course, but quite interesting. Thanks for posting.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 8:48AM
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So after all this, we had a record high of 79 on Feb 16!! Anyway, I have pretty much decided not to replant as previously, just too expensive and heartbreaking, having hand selected everything I planted over a 12 year period. The Chihuahuan native yuccas, sotols, Nolinas, however, all fared fine, so I guess that tells me a lot about what to replace the non natives with. And good old fast growing mesquite trees to replace the eucalyptus.....

    Bookmark   February 23, 2011 at 8:08PM
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