So far, 2012 has been the warmest year on record in New Mexico, and the second-driest. By Sunday, things are likely to feel different — wet and very cold.
“We do have a storm coming, and it’s long-overdue,” said Ed Polasko, who staffs the drought desk at the National Weather Service’s Albuquerque office.
The storm crossed the coastline into Washington state Friday and was expected to drop down across the Great Basin and into the central Rockies over the weekend, according to weather service meteorologist Brian Guyer. Guyer and his colleagues say the state’s north-central mountains, from the Sangre de Cristos down through the Sandia-Manzano chain, could see a pileup of dry, fluffy snow. There could be snow in the Albuquerque area by early Sunday evening, according to Guyer, though east winds may blow away the chances of much falling on the city.
The storm comes as New Mexico withers through the second year of drought, with fears of a third. Federal water managers warned major irrigation and municipal water agencies this week to be prepared for shortfalls in 2013. After two dry years, water storage in most of the state’s reservoirs has been drained and current snowpack in the state’s northern mountains is less than a quarter of normal for this time of year.
The first 11 months of 2012 have been more than 2.5 degrees warmer than the long-term average, according to the National Climatic Data Center — the warmest in records going back to 1895. It is the latest warm year in a long-term trend that scientists attribute to increasing greenhouse gases. The 24 months ending Nov. 30 are also the driest such period on record, Polasko noted, with less precipitation than the worst two-year stretch during the drought of the 1950s.
Almost all of New Mexico could see some modest snowfall, with the possibility of significant accumulations in the high mountains, according to Guyer. But it will be the type of snow that is light and easily blown away. “It’s going to be incredibly dry snow,” he said.
The highest mountains could receive 10 or more inches of snow, but much of the state will get only 1 to 3 inches of snow, according to the weather service.
The storm’s real punch will come in the form of an arctic air mass being pulled along for the ride, which will drop temperatures around the state as much as 15 or more degrees from Saturday’s to Sunday’s high temperatures. Parts of the state’s northern mountains will struggle to get above freezing Sunday, with their highs coming in the morning, before the arctic air pushes in and brings “a drastic drop” in temperatures, according to Guyer. Albuquerque’s high Sunday is forecast to be 47.
If Albuquerque gets any snow, it will come beginning at midday Sunday. But Guyer said there is a risk that winds blowing in from the east could squelch the city’s chances of precipitation, a common phenomenon that leaves Albuquerque gasping for snow during winter storms that bring snow to the mountains to the east as well as the high country to the west.
There are signs that the monthslong dry spell may be breaking, with the possibility of another storm after this one, coming late next week, according to the weather service.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal