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Monsoon shaping up for parched NM

Clouds in the East Mountains hint at coming summer rains, which forecasters say could be here by next week.(Marla Brose/Journal)
Clouds in the East Mountains hint at coming summer rains, which forecasters say could be here by next week.(Marla Brose/Journal)
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Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Waiting for New Mexico’s summer monsoon rains to break the drought feels a little like being the kid in the back seat on a long car trip: Are we there yet?

Soon. We’ll be there soon.

“It’s going to look a lot more monsoon-like late next week,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Kerry Jones, who is watching the forecast as anxiously as everyone else.

Afternoon thundershowers have been popping up around the state in recent weeks, but it takes more than a storm here or there to qualify as a full-on onset of the monsoon rains.

Far less dramatic than its famous Asian cousin, the North American monsoon system creeps north out of Mexico, typically beginning in mid- to late June. One of our monsoon’s key characteristics, Jones said, is an end to the upper atmosphere’s westerly winds, which scour the atmosphere daily. When the westerlies die, they allow moist air to stream up from the south, which under the right conditions provides the fuel for towering afternoon thunderstorms.

Parts of New Mexico get 40 percent or more of their annual precipitation from monsoon rains. This year, the forecast favors a wetter-than-average summer rainy season, an encouraging sign after another dry year in New Mexico.

Jones said one early sign is already in place, with afternoon thunderstorms in the mountains of central Mexico. “The Sierra Madres have been lighting up pretty good just about every day for a week now,” he said.

Now the computer forecast models are finally showing the first signs of that weather pattern breaking through into Arizona and New Mexico, with the westerlies breaking down by the start of the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

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