One word defines Curry and Roosevelt counties these last six month: Dry.
Bone dry, say officials who keep track. The National Weather Service said New Mexico average precipitation for March was ranked as the third driest since 1895, when they started keeping count.
The weather service reports from October through March, Clovis received 1.81 inches of moisture and Portales measured 1.91 inches.
Each day without moisture means increased fire danger and hurts eastern New Mexico’s agricultural economy.
New Mexico Forestry Division spokesperson Daniel Ware said a statewide (with the exception of four and a half counties) fire restriction became effective 8 a.m. Saturday.
“Obviously, first and foremost, it means you’re right in a target zone,” said Ware. “Most of our fires this year have been in eastern New Mexico and our biggest fires have been in eastern New Mexico. The longer we go without any rain and the longer we have sustained winds, the longer it’s going to take to recover.”
Ware said although this is not the worst drought New Mexico has seen, fire dangers are high and people should exercise caution. He said the Forestry Division puts off placing restrictions as long as possible but current conditions have reached a point where fire danger is just too high.
“Most of these fires are just kind of common-sense type situations,” Ware said. “These fires are not campfires that are getting away from people. It’s more situations where people are just not taking the precautions they need to. That’s what we need is people to think about what they’re doing. You need to have situational awareness. You need to know what’s going on around you as far as weather.”
Ware said examples of taking such precautions are minor things, such as making sure a chain isn’t dragging when hauling a trailer, not throwing cigarette butts outside and taking care when using power tools.
He said it is important to take precautions because conditions will only get worse as the dry thunderstorm season approaches in May.
Local farmers say they have been hit hard because their dryland wheat crops have slowly died from lack of moisture.
Pat Woods of the New Mexico State Farm Bureau said 90 percent of his dryland wheat has been condemned by federal crop insurance.
“I read a quote awhile ago from Cattle Growers President Bert Ancell where he said he prays El Nino and La Nina would end up having a fight over New Mexico and both of them end up crying right over New Mexico,” said Woods, laughing. “Right now, the irrigated farmers are trying to put water on their irrigated land by running their sprinklers and wells … before a crop is planted, because they’re trying to build up that moisture profile.”
He said irrigated farmers are storing water into the land, so extra moisture will be available to their spring crops. Farmers estimate it will be a dry summer as well.
Local Portales farmer Rick Ledbetter said he has mostly irrigated crops but even they have suffered.
“Even though we have irrigated land, we still need help from mother nature with winter moisture,” Ledbetter said. “The dry weather has been pretty devastating on the dryland. What little dryland I have, it’s had it. It’s pretty much dead. My irrigated (crop) looks pretty good but it’s not going to be nearly as good as it could have been.”
He said his silage crops are about two-thirds of what they normally are but he considers himself fortunate because most of his crops have managed to survive despite the dry weather and high winds.