Thunder in the Desert

By Scott Westerman
There are no ordinary days in New Mexico. The view from Academy and Tramway is an exquisite panorama that splashes a palate of earth tones more than 40 miles distant on a clear day. Its noon, and I’m watching a thunderstorm form far off in the desert. When the pressure systems that blanket the earth collide, storms are the inevitable result. Sitting in the Albertson’s parking lot I can see their confluence. Dark cumulus clouds slowly build. In time, rain will obscure the long dormant volcanoes that mark our western horizon.

Locals say that, depending on the winds, you can pinpoint the exact hour the storm will arrive by watching the shadows overtake familiar landmarks. A man with a “Go Lobos” sweatshirt passes me and, reading my mind, says, “six o’clock.”

And so it is that I find myself looking East from behind the big windows at the Whole Foods market at that exact hour. At 6000 feet, you get the Jimi Hendrix sensation, as if you could “touch the sky”. As the front converges, the heavens descend. A dark curtain of icy rain seems to explode from the clouds that are, even now, scraping the upper reaches of the Sandia Mountains.

The ground is cement solid in these parts and it’s impossible to absorb the precipitation as fast as it falls. If it rains long enough, the gutters are soon awash and the arroyas, the huge culverts strategically cut to divert rainwater from human dwellings, are transformed from parched moonscapes to rushing rivers.

But not tonight.

After ten minutes, the torrents subside and a rainbow appears, it’s arching prismatic spectrum leaping from one edge of the city limits to the other. The darkest of the thunderheads have cleared the mountains, leaving smoky white remnants among the alpine trees.

It’s colder now. The air is scrubbed clean. The subtle greenery that fights for life in this arid climate looks polished and bright. It’s a fresh, new world revealed in primary colors. In the west, rich vectors of pumpkin orange paint the evening. Another spectacular sunset is in store.