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Drought news: bad for now, but a glimmer of hope for next winter

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The worst case drought scenario — dry March winds — is eating into New Mexico’s already meager snowpack, state and federal officials were told at a Friday meeting of the state’s Drought Monitoring Working Group.

The fields of winter snow that provide the state’s river runoff “are just blowing away,” said Raymond Abeyta of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

But the drought team also heard the first good news in a while — the growing chance of an El Niño, a shift in the weather patterns that could finally bring a wetter winter of 2014-15. The odds of an El Niño have risen in recent weeks to 60 percent, according to Chuck Jones of the National Weather Service’s Albuquerque office.

Officials expressed caution about the forecast, noting that prominent signs of an El Niño in 2012 fizzled. But it is nevertheless the best climate news for drought-plagued New Mexico in some time. “At this point I’m very cautious,” said Shawn Bennett, head of the Weather Service’s Albuquerque office. “At least it’s leaning in that direction.”

The immediate problem — a meager snowpack being eaten away by winds — is worsened by a forecast for a warm spring, according to Jones. That means whatever snowmelt New Mexico gets will be subject to greater evaporation as it makes its way downstream and into the state’s water supply reservoirs and irrigation systems, Jones said.


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