From The New Mexico Political Report (Kendra Chamberlain):
“I wish I had better news,” said Dave DuBois, New Mexico’s State Climatologist and director of the NM Climate Center at the New Mexico State University, during a weather outlook webinar hosted by the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) held in May. DuBois was looking at a three-month weather outlook map forecasting rain during New Mexico’s summer months and monsoon season.
“I really didn’t want to see this,” he said, swirling his mouse over a patch of brown in the Four Corners area. “Not a lot of good news there. This is showing some probability for below-average precipitation for northwest New Mexico.”
Experts agree 2020 is shaping up to be a challenging year for water in New Mexico. Despite a near-normal snowpack last winter, dry soil conditions and a very warm spring — with hardly any precipitation since January — has thrust much of the state into drought conditions, again…
The northern portion of the state, along the Colorado border, is experiencing the worst of the drought. The Four Corners area in particular has been an epicenter of drought conditions for a few years now.
The latest modeling, visualized in the brown splotches on the weather outlook map, indicates the area may not see much water this summer, either.
“This is where we’re having problems,” DuBois said. “The further you get north, the drier it is.”
The mountains of New Mexico accumulated an almost normal amount of snow during the 2019-2020 “water year,” the time of year when the area receives the bulk of its precipitation. For New Mexico, the water year roughly runs from the first snows in October to a peak in April, when snowpack is at its highest, though the peaks in snowpack vary across elevation and latitude.
“We use that as our starting point for the start of the cold season, when we start to build our hydrologic storage areas,” DuBois said. “Usually, the peak snow is right around the beginning of April.”
Under normal conditions, the peak snowpack in April begins to melt in the early summer, leading to the runoff season, as the mountain streams carry the melted snowpack down from the higher elevations to the rivers.
In 2019, the state saw several big snow storms in the earlier part of the water year, dumping precipitation onto the mountain tops throughout the month of November. But the spring snowstorms, which would typically add to the snowpack to April, never materialized in many of the state’s water basins. Instead, the area saw unusually warm temperatures, which in turn led to an earlier runoff…
“They’ve had a really tough two years. The center of drought in the whole country was the Four Corners area,” DuBois said. “They’ve gone through a lot, and we’ve seen the impacts on native vegetation. It’s pretty bad. In some of those areas, they still haven’t really recovered. We’re seeing a longer term dry in the north, but indicators that the drought is pushing south.”