It is officially fall in Mexico City, and there is a noticeable chill in the air. But the weather has been strange for months now – and it’s definitely thrown me for a loop.
You may recall in my Top Ten Mexico City post of last January, I noted “The weather” (el clima) as one of the ten things I liked most about Mexico City. Chingado, was I wrong.
Mexico City and the surround central highlands are considered “high desert.” For the altitude (roughly 7,300 feet above sea level), this implies chilly nights and mornings, pleasantly warm afternoons, and lots of glorious sunshine to break through the thick layer of smog. And almost no rain. This holds true from November through mid-May, but something daffy happens every summer. Starting sometime in late May or early June, it’ll rain in the afternoons – usually around 4 p.m. – and quick thunderstorms will strike. You wouldn’t want to be atop Teotihuacán’s Pyramid of the Sun, say, during this time. The rain seldom lasts more than an hour, and the next morning is dry and sunny until noontime clouds roll in and the sky opens up that afternoon. The rain might hold off for a day or two here and there but in general, it’s as regular as clockwork.
In July, there aren’t any “hold off” days. It will rain. In August, it rains more. In September, it gets even worse. The relative humidity means that the air is always damp, and that bath towels, etc., never really dry. Mornings are cold, not warming until around 11 a.m. Rainfall times become unpredictable – 4 p.m. is no longer the norm. It can rain as early as 1 p.m., or as late as 1 a.m. Or on-and-off for that entire 12-hour period. A few miserable mornings I would leave my apartment at 5:30 a.m., and not only would it still be dark, but it would still be raining! As a still-recent transplant to the country, I was looking forward to Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations of 15 September, but of course it rained miserably and I didn’t leave my apartment. I remember realizing one day last month that I had gone at least two weeks without seeing the sun. Depressing!
To put things in perspective, I should be glad I was in Mexico City and not, say, Acapulco, which was hit by a devastating tropical storm that left thousands homeless. In DF it was rainy and cold, but not life-ruining. Still, I yearned for October, when the weather was said to have finally gotten better. Yeah, right.
We had five gloriously warm and sunny days in early October, and then the rain returned. With a vengeance. I was walking home from class one evening and I nearly, seemingly, drowned. The street was sloped so that the rainwater rushed down both curbsides like a raging river. One-way traffic, however, went in the opposite direction, so that each passing car created a tsunami effect. My umbrella has never let me down once this summer, but on nights like this it simply wasn’t enough to keep me dry. Whenever a car passed by – driving ridiculously fast given the conditions – I would lower my umbrella in front of me to block the tsunami soon to follow. But one car had to be pushing 500 mph, and the wave was so big that it “jumped” my umbrella and hit me smack in the face – a combination of acid rain, oil slick, and trash. I could taste the sewage! My shoes – which I had bought just two weeks prior – were ruined.
It is now just three days from November as I write this and finally, I think, the rain has stopped. This afternoon is sunny – but also quite cold. Additionally, all that rain has meant unprecedented plant and weed growth, and allergy sufferers in Mexico City are in their misery.
I have been told by several lifelong residents that the rainy season never used to be so bad, that most years, the majority of rainfall would be confined to June and July. Likewise, I recognize that September and October’s Caribbean and Pacific hurricanes have brought rain with them to all elevations of south-central Mexico, not just to places like Acapulco and Cancun.
Why is this so much of a bummer for me? Well, three reasons:
1) I have never really liked the rain. I can deal with it from time to time, and as a shutterbug, I have learned to work with it, photographically-speaking, rather than hide inside. I captured some pretty good shots of a rainy, fogged-in Taroko Gorge in Taiwan; of Rome, Lviv, and other millennia-old European cities during any of the continent’s unpredictable downpours; and of the Matterhorn, Europe’s most recognizable mountain, as it literally disappeared under a low-hanging rain cloud while I made an aborted summit attempt. But all things being equal, I’m a sunny skies kind of guy. So much rain, frankly, depresses me.
2) Mexico City doesn’t “do” rain very well. For as much as the city gets, this is surprising, frankly. People here don’t really drive when it rains so much as go nuts. I mentioned a few paragraphs above about repeated “tsunamis” coming my way as I made my way home from class one evening against oncoming traffic. I would mortgage my fortune on my insistence that those crazy bastardos actually drove faster when they saw me, as if in a fit of “drown the pedestrian” rage. Do they not know that they must double, sometimes triple their stopping distance when driving on wet pavement?! Also: public transport – especially the metro – slows to a near-standstill when it rains.
3) When it rains here, it often is a cold rain. I grant you, this is a high-altitude city, but even so, it seems wrong having to turn on the heater during the summer. Most Mexico City residential buildings do not have heat, nor are they adequately insulated. My heater is running as I write this, and it’s not even winter!
Everything is relative. My Chicago friends are already bracing for winter, and are likely envious that I live in a city that isn’t battered by five months of snow. But Mexico City is battered by five months of rain, and in many ways that’s worse. You can walk around all day in the snow and – frostbitten toes notwithstanding – not get as wet as you would if you walked just 30 minutes in the rain.
I love this city. But I might take next summer off – or at least the month of September. 🙂 Otherwise, I will have to seriously consider bringing my car down here. Having a car here will keep me dry, but of course it’ll boost my carbon footprint – which is currently at or close to zero – and cost me a small fortune in parking fees at the same time. Bleh.
Above pic: This is the courtyard of the Old Palace of the Inquisition building. It is pouring miserably. A common trend this summer was that within seconds of my arrival somewhere open-air, the sky would open up.
Below pic: I posted this on Facebook a few weeks ago following a late night hailstorm that left behind inch-deep hail. I have never seen anything like this in my life, anywhere.