ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Last summer, El Niño was looking like our savior.
The climate pattern with the catchy name usually tips the odds toward wet weather in New Mexico. So it looked like good news when it showed signs in June of returning after two years dominated by its drought-making sibling La Niña.
But in September, the warm Pacific Ocean temperatures that are El Niño’s hallmark began to disappear.
It’s not gone completely, but its rapid fade — federal forecaster Mike Halpert on Thursday called it “an indecisive El Niño” — has taken the edge off of any optimism that the winter forecast might offer relief for New Mexico after two years of deep drought.
As a result, Halpert and his colleagues at the Climate Prediction Center in Maryland offered a seasonal forecast that said odds favor drought to continue in New Mexico and across much of the nation’s midsection at least through January.
The forecast comes as New Mexico heads into winter with two-thirds of the state in severe drought, according to Thursday’s weekly federal Drought Monitor. Most of the state’s large water reservoirs are low after two years of La Niña-induced drought, and water managers say current dry soils and aquifers mean it will take an extra helping of snow this winter to make up the deficit.
It could be worse.
“The good news in all of this is that nobody’s talking about a third consecutive La Niña,” said Ed Polasko at the National Weather Service’s Albuquerque office.
Beyond that, Polasko also found some hopeful history when he combed through old records to see what had happened in previous years like this. In El Niño-neutral years like we appear to be heading into, large areas of central to northern New Mexico see near-normal to above-normal precipitation, especially into the spring months.
That is especially important given recent history, Polasko noted. In each of the last two years, we started off the winter season with decent snowfall, but then saw much of that moisture simply evaporate into the warm spring winds rather than melting into New Mexico’s rivers.
The historical data suggests we may get a reprieve from that problem next spring, Polasko said.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal