From The Taos News:
The first major snowstorm of the 2021-22 winter season came late this year, but when it finally rolled into Northern New Mexico on New Year’s Eve, dropping several inches to a couple of feet, depending on elevation, it dramatically changed the picture of what snowpack levels could look like this year.
According to data recorded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service National Water and Climate Center, precipitation levels in Taos County more than doubled from mid-December through Tuesday (Jan. 18), rising from approximately 5.1 inches on Dec. 19 to 11.6 inches as of Jan. 18.
Data from the United States Department of Agriculture shows that the Sangre de Cristos currently have between 65-82 percent of expected snowpack for a typical winter season. That varies depending on location, of course, with the lower spine of the mountain range near Santa Fe seeing about 69 percent, the area near Cimarron at 65 percent and Taos with the highest at 82 percent.
On Jan. 18, Taos Ski Valley reported 38 inches of snow at its base and 54 inches of “packed powder.” Nearly all of its lifts are open, except for two and 76 of its 110 runs are open.
Despite the sudden shift from unusually dry to snowy, historical studies of snowpack levels don’t bode well for the future of snow in the Western United States or for the ski resorts that rely on it to keep their businesses thriving.
A November 2021 study, “A low-to-no snow future and its impacts on water resources in the western United States,” estimated that snow water equivalents are expected to decline by 25 percent by 2050, largely due to persistent greenhouse gas emissions. The study drew its conclusions from what is already known: since the 1950s, snowpack in the Western U.S. has fallen by 20 percent.
The implications of this decline, and the continued reduction in snowpack for the future, predict more serious consequences than resorts suffering or recreationalists missing out on their favorite winter activities.
“Diminished and more ephemeral snowpacks that melt earlier will alter groundwater and streamflow dynamics,” the study reads. “The direction of these changes are difficult to constrain given competing factors such as higher evapotranspiration, altered vegetation composition and changes in wildfire behavior in a warmer world.”
New Mexico has been under varying levels of drought for roughly 20 years, which was part of the motivation behind a cloud seeding operation that was introduced last year by the Roosevelt Soil and Water Conservation District in Southeast New Mexico. Despite evidence that shows cloud seeding can enhance precipitation levels significantly, the application, submitted by Western Weather Consultants of Durango, Colorado, was retracted in November following strong public pushback from opponents who believe cloud seeding can be harmful to the environment and public health.