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Light rain ends 96 days without precipitation in Albuquerque

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It rained a little Wednesday. That’s the good news. The bad news is that’s just about all the good weather news in the foreseeable forecast.

No rain is expected today or for days to come.

“The outlook from late winter through spring is below-average precipitation,” said Kerry Jones, a meteorologist with the Albuquerque office of the National Weather Service. “The odds are tilted that way. It’s not good.” Wednesday’s rain, 0.03 inch recorded at the Albuquerque airport by midafternoon, broke a city dry spell that had stretched to 96 days without measurable precipitation, the fifth-longest such period since 1891. The longest such period is 109 days in 1902.

Although there wasn’t much measurable precipitation at the airport, the storm left wet streets and plenty of puddles around the city.

“If we had not had (Wednesday’s) precipitation, we could have given that longest stretch a run for its money, maybe even broken it,” Jones said. While Wednesday’s moisture is welcome, Jones said, it’s not much help.

“We would need unprecedented wetness, almost equivalent to the dryness we have experienced, to make up the ground we have lost,” he said.

At the start of 2017, slightly more than 4 percent of New Mexico was experiencing some degree of drought. At the start of this year, 46 percent of the state, mostly in the extreme north and in the west, had some level of drought. And Jones said the condition of mountain snowpacks, the source of spring runoffs that feed the state’s streams and rivers, is dismal.

“Up north, most basins have snowpacks that are at from zero to 6 percent of median,” he said. “Up on the state border, some basins are at 15 percent of median.”

He said a gauge at Bobcat Pass, an area just below 10,000 feet between Red River and Eagle Nest, is indicating that location’s lowest measurement since 1980.

“There’s no snow there,” he said.

Some areas of the state did get some snow Wednesday, and there was a chance of snow and rain persisting into Wednesday evening. But as of Wednesday afternoon, Jones said, there had not been significant accumulations of snow.

“The northern mountains mostly missed out,” he said. “Up at Taos Ski Valley, there was some snow, a few inches up high.”

In the Albuquerque area, most of the precipitation was concentrated from the Sandia Mountain foothills up to Sandia Crest. A dusting of snow covered most of the Crest.

Across the state, “some of the better precipitation totals, two to three inches, were in the Pie Town and Quemado areas,” Jones said. “For everybody else, it was pretty light. But we won’t give up hope.”

Hope is something David Gensler, water manager for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, always keeps close.

“I try not to worry about it too much early in the season, because I know one big storm can turn things around,” Gensler said Wednesday. “The weather is very volatile in the desert Southwest. We just sit tight and wait. Whatever we get, we get.”

The Conservancy District is responsible for delivering irrigation water to 70,000 acres of cropland. Snowpack and the spring runoff are important factors in providing that water.

“I have to admit I’d be in a better mood if there were 100 inches (of snow) at the Cumbres Trestle above Chama,” Gensler said. “That’s a good indicator of the (spring) inflow into El Vado Reservoir (in Rio Arriba County). But I’m not going to panic yet. The nice thing is we have 50,000 acre-feet of San Juan water and roughly 40,000 acre-feet of Rio Grande water in storage at El Vado. There is water in Heron Reservoir (in Rio Arriba County), too. We do have something in the bank, and there are years when we haven’t had anything. We are not dead yet.”

Gensler said it’s just a matter of taking the bad years with the good.

“When we have good years, we sort of sit back and relax,” he said. “And when we have bad years, we all pull together and make it work.”

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