Temperatures reach record lows as bitter cold arctic blast hits city

Angelo Marti, of Santa Fe-based Reliable Tech, and Jordan Marszycki make repairs to a heating and cooling system at Nao Sadewic’s home on Thursday. Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican

Cold air gripped Santa Fe and much of the rest of New Mexico this week, breaking low-temperature records and causing more of the city’s homeless population to seek shelter.

According to the National Weather Service, temperatures dipped into the low teens late Wednesday and early Thursday morning. By Thursday afternoon, the temperature had crawled back into the low 30s.

Brent Wachter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the sudden cold snap came from cold air building in Canada. That front, coupled with the remnants of a super typhoon, caused a mass of frigid air to drop into the Lower 48 in recent days.

The state’s eastern plains were hit the hardest, Wachter said, but the cold front set several records throughout New Mexico. Wachter said the highest temperature recorded at the Santa Fe Municipal Airport on Wednesday was 32 degrees, a record low for Nov. 13. The previous record for the day was 37 degrees in 2000. In Las Vegas, N.M., the high temperature on Wednesday was 17 degrees. The previous record for the date in that city was 27 degrees.

The cold snap also brought a chance of snow Thursday night at higher altitudes, Wachter said. He predicted temperatures would rise Friday, but not for long. Colder temperatures are expected later in the day and into the weekend. Wachter also said there’s a greater chance for snow during the weekend, also at higher altitudes.

Difficult driving conditions were reported on some Eastern New Mexico highways due to packed snow and ice. Dangerous conditions also were reported early Thursday on sections of Interstate 25 near Las Vegas and parts of Interstate 40 near Santa Rosa.

Joseph Jordan-Berenis, director of the Interfaith Community Shelter, said there was a surge in the number of people staying at the facility at 2801 Cerrillos Road. On Monday, only 58 people stayed overnight at the shelter, but on Tuesday and Wednesday, more than 90 people flocked to the site to seek warmth.

“These are January or February numbers,” Jordan-Berenis said.

He said the shelter has donated a lot of warm clothing and blankets to its guests and has opened its doors during some hours that it’s normally closed to help warm those suffering in the cold.

The sudden freeze also kept heating and plumbing companies around town busy. Bernadette Marti, who owns Reliable Tech with her husband, Angelo, said the phone had been ringing non-stop. She said the majority of calls concerned heaters or furnaces that wouldn’t turn on.

“People have waited too long,” she said. “We try to remind people as best as we can, but it’s the same every year.”

Ben Swan, a spokesman for the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society, encouraged pet owners to bring their animals inside during the cold snap. When that is not possible, he said, they should make sure an animal’s water supply doesn’t freeze and that they have some kind of insulated shelter. Swan said some pets may require a jacket or sweater to cope with the cold temperatures, particularly those with thin fur or skin.

Swan also said many creatures, cats included, will seek refugee inside vehicle engine compartments during the winter season. He said a quick tap on the hood should shake loose any stowaways.

Officials with Santa Fe County and the city of Santa Fe didn’t report any problems caused by the sudden cold.

Many people noted that clumps of thick green leaves also fell from many trees throughout town. Rich Atkinson, known as “the Tree Man,” said the cold played a factor. He said trees produce a hormone that regulates when leaves fall. The freeze is merely a trigger. He said most of the trees that shed leaves were likely mulberry trees.

In some good news, Candy DeJoia said Ski Santa Fe crews had started making some snow, thanks to the cold weather. It was warmer on the mountain than in town Thursday morning, she said, but by midday it had gotten cold enough to produce artificial snow. Ski Santa Fe plans to open on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27.

Contact Chris Quintana at 986-3093 or cquintana@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @CQuintanaSF.