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Summer blizzard smothering wildfire illustrates the utter weirdness of 2020

Commentary: This is the year we drink from a bottomless bottle of the bizarre.

The NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP satellite caught sight of this massive blanket of wildfire smoke across the US on Sept. 7.
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In the past day, 14 inches of freak summer snow has fallen on the Cameron Fire in Colorado, demonstrating just how much can change in a year.

During the first week of September 2019, my wife and I attended an outdoor music festival in a forest outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. At the time, it seemed like a crazy experience because it rained one night and some things got a bit muddy. A Prius may have even been stuck for a moment. Pretty wild, right?

Wild by 2019 standards, maybe. This year is whole new kinds of actual wild. Like everyone, I spend each day trying to wrap my head around living through a pandemic, a shattered economy and whatever you want to call politics in 2020. But it all hit me in a new way on a routine Tuesday in 2020. 

A haze of smoke had been hanging over the valley where I live in northern New Mexico for a few days, obscuring views of the nearby mountains and casting a brown tint over the horizon. Fires burning across the western US created smoke so thick satellites were having a hard time distinguishing the acrid plumes from regular clouds

Gusting winds whipped up sand and dirt from our drought-laden high desert environment, making it hard to tell where the smoky haze ended and the dust storm started. The two seemed to be joining forces in a kind of apocalyptic atmospheric hookah hit from hell. 

Tumbleweeds flew across the road, smacking windshields. Driving home Tuesday, I had to swerve to avoid a piece of corrugated metal roofing material that had been blown off a shed as it danced across my lane.

Weirder still, there's hope the freak late summer blizzard that came in on these wild winds will douse the Cameron Fire and other ongoing western wildfires. 

Officials in Colorado say the snow has halted the advance of the blaze for now, but the fire is still smoldering beneath the powder, so the fight between forces of nature is ongoing.  

This marks only the 15th time in the past 12 decades a weather station in the US has seen temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) one day, followed by snow the next, according to climatologist Brian Brettschneider.

Yet this, somehow, seems almost less crazy than the rather banal encounter with a mud puddle did a year ago. 

This is the impressive desensitizing power of 2020. This is what it's like to live through history. Eventually, somehow, life will return to a state of such mundane comfort that pushing a vehicle out of a bit of mud will make for a lively anecdote. Years from now we will tell younger people about life in 2020, and it will seem like a foreign world to them -- the way we might think of the Great Depression-era US or wartime Europe today.  

But it seems we may have at least a few months if not a year or two to go before previously bizarre and unusual happenings live up to those terms again. For now, the best truism to live by is the one we have all learned in recent months: It can always get weirder, and it probably will. 

I'm so accustomed to unprecedented oddities I fully expect dragons to appear in the skies at any moment. The real question is whether their appearance would surprise anyone living in 2020. 


Corrugated metal roofing material blown off a shed next to a New Mexico field.

Eric Mack/CNET