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Drought persists across New Mexico

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The Land of Enchantment is a land of contrasting drought conditions.

Heavy rainfall from the remnants of several Pacific tropical systems over the last couple months have helped alleviate drought conditions in areas of southern, eastern and central New Mexico, but the northern mountains and Four Corners are still holding onto exceptional drought conditions, according to an updated map released this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

San Juan County and parts of Colfax, Los Alamos, McKinley, Rio Arriba, Sandoval, Santa Fe and Taos counties – about 15 percent of the state – continue to see exceptional drought conditions, the most serious category.

About 26 percent of the state – parts of the eastern New Mexico counties of Curry, Eddy, Harding, Lea, Quay, Roosevelt and Union, as well as all or part of the southern and central counties of Doña Ana, Grant, Luna, Otero, Sierra, Socorro and Valencia – is drought-free.

Royce Fontenot, senior hydrologist with the Albuquerque office of the National Weather Service, said during a New Mexico Drought Monitor Working Group session this week that the area of exceptional drought centered over the Four Corners continues to entrench itself and has not moved in the last month.

“There’s been some improvement along the southern (Sangre de Cristo Mountains),” Fontenot said. “While the recent snows have been great on the Sangres, they haven’t been so great over on the southern extension of the San Juan and Jemez mountains.”

The Drought Monitor Work Group, comprised of members of the National Weather Service and state and federal agencies, determines the extent and severity of drought in the state.

Fontenot said most of the Rio Grande Valley, parts of the upper Pecos Valley and southern New Mexico, especially the Interstate 25 corridor, have seen improvement, while the state’s eastern border with Texas is almost drought-free.

By contrast, 78.9 percent of the state was drought-free at this time last year.

Bernalillo County improving

Bernalillo County has seen some improvement in conditions in recent weeks, thanks to those tropical system rains.

The southwestern and central parts of Bernalillo County are in the abnormally dry category, an area that was in moderate drought a month ago. Southeastern and northern parts of the county are in the moderate drought category, also an improvement from the severe drought conditions seen last month.

The Albuquerque International Sunport, the official reporting station for the metro area, is still in a rainfall deficit for the year, at 8.23 inches.

Average precipitation for the year to date is 8.83 inches.

Hoping for El Niño

Experts continue to express hope that drought conditions in the state will improve this winter with the probable arrival of El Niño, an ocean-atmosphere climate interaction that is linked to periodic warming in sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific.

“El Niño is certainly expected to come,” Fontenot said. “The majority of the models are predicting El Niño to develop October through December 2018. It looks like, as of now, that we will be returning to neutral conditions by summer, which is not unusual for a weak El Niño.”

Meteorologists from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center project an 80 percent chance that El Niño will develop and continue during the winter and a 55 to 60 percent chance of the climate phenomenon continuing into the spring.

Snow in the north and rain in the south may have helped El Vado and Elephant Butte reservoirs increase water storage volumes in November, compared with the previous month. But both reservoirs were showing storage volumes well below their volumes from a year ago.

The Navajo, Heron and Abiquiú and Caballo reservoirs showed lower water storage volumes this month, compared with the previous month.