Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

New Mexico’s drought persists as winter looms

Winter is coming, and New Mexico’s outlook for much-needed moisture this season remains uncertain.

The water year has been like a rollercoaster. Rivers overbanked and ran high after surprise spring snows boosted rivers across the state during the springtime melt.

Wet winter buoys NM rivers, but drought tempers optimism

However, scorching temperatures, and a ridge of high pressure prevented the seasonal storms from dropping rainfall, as temperatures soared across the globe. In August, much of the river dried between Socorro and the Isleta Pueblo.

The El Niño pattern “loads the dice for a colder, wetter winter” for the Southwest, said Andrew Mangham, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service office in Albuquerque.

El Niño describes a pattern of atmospheric and ocean temperatures in the Pacific, which impact U.S. weather patterns.

But it’s uncertain how much snow may hit New Mexico, and where it might accumulate.

Many factors – not just atmospheric patterns – impact how weather will behave, said Andrew Mangham, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service office in Albuquerque.

Forecasters are less certain with prediction because there’s not very much data for more intense El Niño patterns. Mangham said only a dozen of those events have happened over the past 50 years.

“I don’t want to make a strong statement like, ‘yes, everyone get out your snowshoes, we know we’re gonna, we’re gonna have a great winter.’ That’s not what I’m saying,” he said. “But on the whole, looking at the past 50 years looking at about 12 events, typically, we do see more snow.”

Currently, more than 96% of the state is in varying degrees of drought. Drier areas include pockets in the Northwestern portion of the state and banded across much of southern New Mexico.

In a presentation on Dec. 5 , climate technologist Curtis Riganti, with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska Lincoln said that drought is expected to persist through the end of the month, but additional snows through the winter “may improve drought conditions.”

“We’re not necessarily forecasting for the drought to get significantly worse; we’re just also not forecasting for any better,” Mangham said.

New Mexico’s snowpacks are vital sources of water for its rivers, people, crops and ecosystems. The snowpacks are shrinking overall, as climate change has made conditions across the Southwest hotter and drier. Snow water is a measure of how much moisture is contained in a snowpack when it’s melted down, and is often measured in inches.

Recent storms blanketed mountains in snow and boosted snow-water averages for the state for this time of the year. But New Mexico snowbanks often don’t peak until February or March.

Meteorologist Randall Hergert told Source NM there are some chances for the very northern portion of the state to see snow this weekend, but not very much.

“We’re forecasting the storm system to give the majority of the forecast area unfortunately, a lot of wind,” Hergert said.

Another storm system shows potential for another storm to hit the state the weekend of Dec. 15, but it’s too soon to tell if it’ll be cold enough for snow in eastern New Mexico.

“The question right now is just how that storm system is going to evolve and if that’s going to be a majority rain or snow,” he said.

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