Drought? What drought?
A wet weather system has oozed over the state in the past few days, dumping inches of rain in mere hours, raising rivers, flooding parched plains and even prompting evacuations.
Some areas of the state received half their annual rainfall totals over a two-day period, according to the National Weather Service, and the system is expected to linger for the next couple days.
It is forecast to taper off during the weekend, but, even then, the potential for scattered thunderstorms will remain, according to weather service spokesman Kerry Jones.
“There’s been some impressive amounts out there,” Jones said.
The chief of the Artesia Fire Department had to cobble together a fleet of boats and helicopters to rescue as many as 75 people from a Lakewood RV park and a nearby small neighborhood Thursday. Heavy rains dumped between 2 to 5 inches nearby and flooded the Pecos River, beginning at 6 a.m. Thursday, but he said the efforts have gone smoothly.
“You’d think we do this every day,” Chief J.D. Hummingbird told the Journal .
The boats and helicopters were still evacuating stranded people as of 4 p.m. from the 4-foot-deep flood in Lakewood, he said, but there were no reports of injuries.
The department used half a dozen boats that were loaned from individual owners, a local refinery and elsewhere, and the New Mexico National Guard pitched in three helicopters, including a Black Hawk, to help Thursday evening.
South of Lakewood, a freight train got stuck. The crew remained on board to await help, Hummingbird said, but he didn’t know how many members were on board.
Evacuees were bused to a shelter at a middle school in Carlsbad.
The flooding largely came from the Pecos River, which had risen to more than 13 feet, a level considered “flood stage.”
By Thursday afternoon, the river was flowing at about 13,000 cubic-feet-per-second through Carlsbad. Its capacity there is 20,000 cubic feet per second.
As a precaution, the City of Carlsbad closed a bridge along U.S. 285 that connects north and south Carlsbad. The Bureau of Reclamation warned anyone in the vicinity of the river from Artesia to the Texas border to be alert and listen to any directions from Eddy County officials. Above all, they implored, stay away from the river and the Avalon Dam.
Flooding along burn scars from fires this summer could be particularly damaging, officials warned.
While there were no other evacuations in the state, rainfall totals from the National Weather Service were striking. Down south, Queen in Eddy County got 5.58 inches; in the northeast, House got 4.83 inches; and Socorro got 4.07 inches. The winner was Sumner Lake, which got 8 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
The service issued flood warnings for De Baca, Chaves, Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Sandoval counties.
Albuquerque also saw record-breaking rain totals Thursday. The Albuquerque International Sunport got 0.53 inch of rain by 12:45 p.m. on Thursday, which broke a more-than-70-year-old record for the day. The airport received 1.45 inches of rain over the two-day period, ending at noon on Thursday.
The rain flooded streets throughout the city, and arroyos were filled with fast-rushing water.
Albuquerque Public Schools on Thursday night shut down its Montgomery Complex, 3315 Louisiana NE, until further notice. Maintenance workers reported that water was collecting on a roof that is already in “bad condition,” and APS Superintendent Winston Brooks was worried about the safety of employees who work in the building, spokeswoman Monica Armenta said.
The complex houses administrative services, such as the Title I program and an arts center, she said.
Jones said it’s somewhat unusual to have such a large and slow-moving system this late in the summer. The system sent moisture north into Colorado, where it caused massive flooding and even several deaths.
The wet weather comes from a monsoon pattern with its center over Nevada and Utah. The pattern is dropping dry air over Arizona and pulling moisture from Mexico and through New Mexico.
He called the system “downright impressive” and said some areas could get as much as 10 inches by the weekend.
“For a lot of areas out there, we’d be close to an average of up to half” of annual rainfall totals, Jones said.