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Areas in drought widen across New Mexico

August rains broke the cycle of fiercely hot and dry summer days in much of New Mexico, but the recent monsoon moisture was not enough to overcome the effects of a mercilessly arid July.

Drought conditions are now a little worse than they were a month ago, thanks to a July that turned out to be the 10th-driest in the state’s history.

a00_jd_26aug_DroughtInformation released Thursday by the Drought Monitoring Workgroup shows that moderate drought in the state has increased from 21 percent to 26.6 percent and – for the first time since April – there’s an area in severe drought: 1.1 percent of the state north of Hobbs. Overall, 87 percent of the state is abnormally dry.

Even so, the state is in much better shape than it was a couple of years ago. In July 2014, no part of the state was free of some degree of drought and 77 percent of the state was in severe to exceptional drought conditions.

The Drought Monitoring Workgroup, made up of members of the National Weather Service and representatives of state and federal agencies, assessed the state’s situation now and in the near future during its monthly meeting this week.

Royce Fontenot, senior hydrologist in the Albuquerque office of the National Weather Service, said things don’t look promising as we move toward fall.

“The outlook for precipitation through October is slightly above normal in western New Mexico and pretty much even (normal) chances in the rest of the state,” he said. “Temperatures are going to be normal to above normal. We are going to stay warm through the fall. I’m not liking the way that looks for our snowpack.”

He said August’s rain was a flip-flop from July’s lack of it.

“We’ve had some pretty good rain, especially in the southeast,” Fontenot said. “Roswell had about 2 inches in 24 hours (Sunday). But 2 inches in Roswell is a drop in the bucket. We had that really dry July, and that is pretty well reflected in the southeast and west of Albuquerque toward the Continental Divide.”

A crescent of moderate drought stains portions of the southeastern and east-central counties of Otero, Chaves, Eddy, Lea, Roosevelt, Curry, De Baca, Quay and Guadalupe. Moderate drought also stretches up the western side of New Mexico from Hidalgo through Grant, Catron, Cibola, McKinney and San Juan counties.

“The rains have helped, but not a whole lot,” said Raymond Abeyta, a hydraulic engineer with the Albuquerque office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water in the West and the power generated by it. “We just keep crossing our fingers and hoping for more rain to help us out some.”

Based on an average of rain gauges across the state, New Mexico got 1.25 inches of rain in July, 53 percent of the normal July rainfall of 2.34 inches.

Precipitation during the last 30 days did soften the effects of July’s brutal heat and lack of rain in some places but not so much in others. Work group members reported that some areas in Otero County’s Sacramento Mountains are greening up nicely but that cattle watering holes that had water in them last year are dry this year.

In some places, rains came so fast and hard the water ran off rather than seeping into the soil. In other places, the soil sucked up the rain like a sponge and stayed dry anyway.

Molly Magnuson, who works for the Office of the State Engineer, said her yard in Santa Fe is a good indicator of what’s going on.

“I am surprised that, when I’m out just pulling up a weed, that the ground is dry even though we just got some rain,” she said.

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