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Storms boost snowpack in northern New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Recent storms have helped build up New Mexico’s snowpack, but a National Weather Service hydrologist says more snow is needed to provide a plentiful spring runoff later this year.

Holiday storms that dumped snow across the state have built the snowpack in the northern mountains of New Mexico to normal or near-normal levels. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Friday reported that snowpack in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which feeds the Rio Grande, was 106 percent of its median level over a period of 30 years and snowpack in the Jemez River Basin was 97 percent of normal.

However, according to Royce Fontenot, senior hydrologist with the Albuquerque office of the National Weather Service, more snow is needed in the Four Corners area and in the large headwater basins in southern Colorado.

“The Sangre de Cristos are doing very well,” Fontenot said. “They are running at normal. A few sites are lower than normal, but for the most part, they’re doing pretty well. And then it gets to be hit-or-miss. The headwater basins that feed the Rio Grande, the Animas and the San Juan are where we want to start seeing more snow.”

Snowpack in the Rio Chama Basin near the Colorado state line was 71 percent of normal, and the Animas River Basin was about 85 percent.

The San Juan River Basin in Colorado and New Mexico has about 73 percent of its median snowpack. The Upper Rio Grande Basin was also at 73 percent of normal.

Snowpack in New Mexico and southern Colorado feeds New Mexico’s reservoirs, rivers and streams during spring runoff and provides water for irrigation and recreation. It’s measured in snow-water equivalent, which reflects the amount of water contained in the snowpack at a location if the entire snowpack were to melt.

Snowpack keeps the ground and soil moist by covering it longer into spring and summer, which influences the onset of the fire season as well as the severity of wildfires, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Even with the heavy high-elevation snow that fell across the Four Corners region and northern New Mexico mountains into the first week of the new year, the area is still dealing with extreme to exceptional drought, according to the federal drought map released Thursday.

Climate experts have been projecting a weak El Niño weather pattern for this winter that could at least partly alleviate drought conditions. The weather phenomenon typically brings wetter-than-average precipitation to New Mexico, but the latest outlook suggests that the El Niño pattern may arrive too late for drought-busting during the winter.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center on Thursday projected a 65 percent chance of an El Niño weather pattern emerging during the Northern Hemisphere spring this year.

“However, given the timing and that a weak event is favored, significant global impacts are not anticipated during the remainder of winter, even if conditions were to form,” the center said in its monthly forecast.

Juan Lopez, a church member, shovels snow from in front of San Jose de Garcia Catholic Church in Las Trampas on Jan. 4. The area got several inches of snow from recent storms. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)