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Drought looking even worse for New Mexico

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New Mexico’s worst-case scenario drought scenario is beginning to materialize, as warm dry weather saps an already meager snowpack in the mountain ranges that feed the state’s rivers, officials said Friday.

” I don’t think it will be a surprise to anyone, but it has been very dry,” Wayne Sleep, a snow surveyor for the federal government, said in a report to the state-federal Drought Monitoring Working Group. As a result, according to Sleep, the April runoff forecasts are likely to be revised downward from those issued in early March. “In addition, the warm and dry pattern has started an early melt-out,” Sleep reported.

The problem, according to Raymond Abeyta of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, is that the early snowmelt does not appear to be showing up yet in the streams and rivers that provide the state’s water supply. “We’re not really seeing it,” Abeyta said.

There are several explanations, none of them encouraging, state and federal officials say. One is watersheds left dry by more than two years of drought soaking up snowmelt before it has the chance to reach streams and rivers. The second is warm, dry winds, which can eat away snow before it has a chance to melt at all.

Snowpack in the state’s mountains ranges from 30 to 80 percent of normal for this time of year, and federal officials have warned that runoff could be bad. The most recent forecast calls for just 39 percent of the average 1981-2010 inflow into Elephant Butte Reservoir, New Mexico’s largest. On the Pecos River, flow into Santa Rosa Lake is forecast at 36 percent of average.

But with the bad conditions over the last month, the forecast numbers are likely to drop, Sleep said.

A new forecast out this week offers little hope that conditions will change, with warm and dry weather likely for the next several months, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Chuck Jones.

“The drought’s going to persist,” Jones said.

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— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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