New Mexico appears headed for a healthy spring runoff this year, but we might not want to celebrate just yet.
January and February have been among the warmest on record in New Mexico. But the warmer-than-usual weather has not severely depleted the plump mountain snowpacks that accumulated earlier this winter.
“The snowpack seems to be holding,” said Royce Fontenot, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. “We’ve got snowpacks at normal, or above normal, in all of our northern New Mexico basins.”
The state continues to benefit from hefty snow accumulations in the northern mountains in December and January, with a couple of new storm systems headed this way over the next 10 days.
New Mexico’s runoff season typically spans mid-March to mid-April and much will depend on what the weather brings over the next six weeks or so, Fontenot said Friday.
“If things stay the way they are, we’ve got enough snow in those upper basins that we will probably see some decent runoff volumes over the season,” he said.
Albuquerque’s mean temperature of 42.6 degrees since Jan. 1 is on track to be the third-highest since record-keeping began here in 1892, according to the National Weather Service.
And last year demonstrated that a healthy snowpack doesn’t guarantee a good spring runoff. In 2016, dry, windy weather in March destroyed much of New Mexico’s snowpack.
This year, forecasts suggest that New Mexico will get some additional rain and mountain snow over the next couple of weeks, Fontenot said.
“We’ve been warm, we’ve been windy, and that has had some impact on the snowpacks,” he said. “But we’ve got some systems coming in over the next 10 days that are going to help maintain the snowpack in the northern basins.”
Today through Tuesday will bring increasing chances for rain and snow to parts of northern of New Mexico. Albuquerque has a 20 percent chance of rain today.
In December and January, one storm system after another dumped snow on the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Many parts of New Mexico received up to four times normal precipitation in January.
The storms delighted skiers and built up some impressive snowpacks in the mountains and basins that feed the Rio Grande, and the Animas and San Juan rivers.
As of Friday, snowpack in the Rio Chama Basin near the Colorado border was 153 percent of normal – the best in the state, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Snowpack in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was 117 percent of normal and snowpack in the Jemez River Basin was 111 percent of normal.
Southern Colorado also has received more than its usual share of snow this winter.
On Friday, the Upper Rio Grande Basin had snowpack at 141 percent of normal, and snowpack in the Animas and San Juan basins was 151 percent of normal.
“Right now, runoffs look to be average to above average, if things hold,” Fontenot said. “Really, the next six weeks are going to tell.”