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Albuquerque is in its third-driest year ever with only 1.61 inches

A00_29jul_drought-mapCopyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

Color New Mexico dry and Albuquerque desperate.

Data released Thursday by the New Mexico Drought Monitoring Workgroup show that more than 21 percent of the state is in moderate drought and nearly all of it is abnormally dry.

And numbers from the National Weather Service reveal that, up to this point, Albuquerque is experiencing its third-driest year – ever.

As of Thursday, Albuquerque’s official rainfall total for the year was 1.61 inches, considerably shy of the 4.47 inches that is average for this point in the year. Weather service statistics list only two years that got off to drier starts – 2011, when the city accumulated 0.58 of an inch through the last day of July, and 1947, when Albuquerque got 1.31 inches through July 31.

If Albuquerque gets some official rainfall before the end of the month, the city might fall back to its fourth- or fifth-driest year. But any way you cut it, July has been plenty hot and dry through much of the city and the state – a sharp contrast with last year, the state’s fifth-wettest year.

Even when there is rain, high temperatures dry it up in a hurry.

“The lack of rain and triple-digit temperatures are hurting us,” said Raymond Abeyta, a hydraulic technician with the Albuquerque office of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Royce Fontenot, senior hydrologist in the Albuquerque office of the National Weather Service, echoed the sentiment.

“The trend is there,” Fontenot said. “We’re drying out.”

Abeyta and Fontenot made their comments during this week’s meeting of the Drought Monitoring Workgroup, made up of representatives of the weather service and state and federal agencies.

After analyzing information such as soil moisture content, the group decided to increase the percentage of the state in moderate drought from 16 percent to 21.46 percent and to boost the percentage of the state listed as abnormally dry from 77 percent to 96 percent.

Moderate drought now extends along the entire western edge of New Mexico, from the Bootheel in Hidalgo County through San Juan County up to the Colorado border. The work group also designated a swatch of moderate drought in southeastern New Mexico.

Twenty-one percent moderate drought doesn’t sound all that bad when you consider that 43 percent of New Mexico was in moderate drought in early April and 37 percent was so designated in late May. Above-normal rainfall throughout the state in April and in significant portions of New Mexico in May and June rolled the drought back to 16 percent by late last month. High temperatures and less rain so far this month accounted for the increase to 21 percent this week.

And while Albuquerque is having its third-driest year, figures available through June show that New Mexico as a whole is experiencing its 43rd-driest year.

New Mexico’s statewide precipitation average for January through June is 4.95 inches. Statewide, an average of 3.97 inches fell through June.

Statewide precipitation numbers are calculated by averaging totals collected at rainfall monitoring stations around the state. Fontenot takes them with a grain of salt.

“I’m not fond of statewide averages – unless you are Rhode Island,” he said. “(New Mexico) is too big. There are too many variables.”

There are variables even in a relatively confined space such as the Albuquerque area. Albuquerque’s 1.61 inches total for this year is based on rainfall collected at the city’s official weather-monitoring station at the airport. Unofficial gauges at points around the city may record precipitation on days when the airport station gets none.

On Monday, for example, no rain was recorded at the airport. But the same day, a gauge in Northeast Albuquerque recorded 0.68 of an inch of rain and a gauge at Paseo Del Norte and Tramway measured 0.22 inch.

Rainfall totals around the state on Monday include 2.48 inches at Bonito Lake, 11 miles northwest of Ruidoso; 0.98 inch in Dora, 16 miles south of Portales; 0.68 inch in Clines Corners; 0.66 inch in Santa Fe and Tucumcari; and 0.55 inch in Tijeras. Good news, but not all that impressive, considering the state is in its monsoon season.

Striking an optimistic note, Fontenot noted that the monsoon season continues through Sept. 30.

“The trend is drier now,” he said. “But we are only a third way through the monsoon, when we get most of our moisture.”