An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter of January 13, 2006
issued from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula


As I issued last week's Newsletter at Hotel Reef a classic norther was blowing in. People here call them "nortes." This Norte had been in the air for some days.

Most of the week before had been scorchingly hot and glaring. Then for two days clouds came from the northwest, not from the northeast, as they usually do. The day before my Reef visit it grew cloudy and much cooler, probably not breaking 80° the whole day. On Friday, my Reef day, the sky was even darker and the wind even cooler, surely never hitting 75°.

The wind was magnificent, roaring, shaking the Coconut Palms like pompoms, sending ripples of sand migrating onto the hotel steps, and blanketing the lobby furniture with dust and grit. The ocean's crashing waves muddied the water nearly to the horizon. Focusing my binoculars on the horizon, out where the water was much deeper, hill-like waves with long white crests formed and crashed in slow motion. No boats were out there fishing that day, no tourist put a toe into the angry water, and no Brown Pelicans dived for fish offshore. Seaweed piled up on the sand and all that salt spray made my thin hair poke straight out during my evening talk.

I love the beach when it's like that. I love the way the wind howls, salt spray stings your eyes and sand peppers your body, leaving thimblefuls of sand in your pockets. Especially I like the dark, raggedy clouds and the feeling it all conjures in you.

A few seconds on the Internet explain what a norther is. When a norther is blowing through, just call up any weather map covering the entire US and you'll see slicing across the nation a slender crescent of snow in the north and rain in the south. Its top horn will be in the Northeast but its bottom one will reach deep into the Gulf of Mexico, even to here.

So, our northers are North American cold fronts reaching all the way down here. I've experienced them in Guatemala and I've seen them set frost on doomed banana trees in Chiapas. Once in Chiapas an old Tzotzil-speaking man asked me during a particularly painful norther whether it was true what they said, that across the next mountain range a volcano in Guatemala was erupting ice.

Tuesday morning a radio station in Mexico City reported 27° F at the university and in the northern state of Chihuahua there was a town with 1° F. Knowing the humble homes in which many people up there live, I can't imagine how difficult it was for them.