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Desert Diary


Averages are funny things. They're all right in their place, but—like so many statistical things—can lead you down the primrose path. Take average annual temperatures, for example. Looks like they should be useful for comparisons. Both Seattle, Washington, and Columbus, Ohio, have average temperatures of just above 50 degrees F. Obviously similar climates, right? Or, so it might seem until you look at some other averages. The average winter temperature in Seattle is 41, but 28 in January in Columbus. Or summer? A chilly 66 in Seattle, a comfortable 73 in Columbus.

What's all this got to do with the Chihuahuan Desert? Just that our wildlife doesn't live by average temperatures, or for that matter, averages of almost anything. Often as not, it's the extremes that get them. Although El Paso's average temperature is 63 degrees, the record low is 8 below zero and the high 114 degrees above. Animals and plants may go for decades, doing nicely, thank you. But it only takes one bad day when you're pushing the limits to go over the edge.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

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