Much more than simple latitude, the relative altitude determines the climate in northern New Mexico, where river-bottom central Albuquerque can be crisp and cloudless while Sandia Peak, 20 miles away and almost 5,000 feet up, is socked in by a blinding snowstorm. Nowhere, though, is it a particularly gentle or mild climate—expect sudden changes in weather and extremes of heat and cold.
At the lower elevations, winter is cold—days usually between 40°F and 55°F—but rarely cloudy, with a few snowstorms that never add up to quite as much moisture as people hope for. Come spring, which starts in late April or May, the number of wildflowers that dot the hills is a direct reflection of the previous winter’s precipitation. Little rain falls in May and June, typically the hottest months of the year, with temperatures climbing into the 90s.
But by early July, the “monsoon” season (as locals call it) brings heavy, refreshing downpours and thunderstorms every afternoon for a couple of months. It’s remarkable—if a bit dismaying—to see how quickly all the water vanishes after each torrential rain. (If you’re out hiking in this season, steer clear of narrow canyons and arroyos during and after rains, as they can fill with powerful, deadly flash floods in a matter of minutes.) September, October, and November are again dry, with the temperature dipping lower each month.
The higher the elevation, the later the spring: At 8,500 feet, snow could still be on the ground in May. Summer nights are rarely warm, and winter chill sets in sooner too, with fresh snow often falling in late October or November, although it usually takes well into December for a good base layer to build up at the ski areas.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition