Chairman: Dry may be norm in New Mexico

By Kevin Baird

CMI staff writer

kbaird@cnjonline.com

The chairman of a newly formed state drought subcommittee says a study showing decades-long droughts in New Mexico is an eye-opener.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Dona Ana County was referring to a precipitation study of the last 2,000 years based on tree rings that showed there was a generous supply of water in New Mexico in the 1980s and 1990s when compared with the long-term record.

Although drought persists in New Mexico, Curry and Roosevelt counties have seen improvement over the last month. The area of D4 exceptional drought has receded in both counties. Roosevelt County has dropped to a D2 severe drought.

Although drought persists in New Mexico, Curry and Roosevelt counties have seen improvement over the last month. The area of D4 exceptional drought has receded in both counties. Roosevelt County has dropped to a D2 severe drought.

Presented Wednesday by the director of the Water Resources Research Institute on the first day of a three-day of a legislative water and natural resources committee meetings at the Clovis Civic Center, the study showed what is now New Mexico experiencing a 150-year drought spanning the fourth and fifth centuries among other decades-long droughts. The trees in the study were taken from northwest region of New Mexico, but institute director Sam Fernald said tree ring studies from around the state produced similar findings.

“We cannot discount the fact that we could be in a 75-year drought,” Cervantes said. “I would hesitate to call it a drought because this could be the norm, and the 1980s and 1990s could be the exception.”

He added people can no longer say, “This is as bad as it gets,” or “It can only get better.”

New Mexico legislators established the subcommittee this year.

Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe County asked how policy makers could possibly plan for an extended drought that would last decades. “Is there something we can do?” he asked. Then he asked Fernald if there was any kind of climate outlook model he could produce to help legislators know what the future holds.

Fernald said it would not be a reliable model. He said climate outlook models are not usually accurate beyond 90 days.

Meteorologist Chuck Jones of the National Weather Service in Albuquerque also discussed the drought. Key points from his presentation included:

  • In June 2013, precipitation in New Mexico was 44 percent of normal. New Mexico was also the seventh driest state. The Northeast plains region of New Mexico was 66 percent of normal.
  • July 2012 to June 2013 was the second driest 12-month period in New Mexico according to records that date to the late 1800s.
  • July 2010 to June 2013 was the driest three-year span in New Mexico recorded history.
  • Between June 18 and July 16 the drought monitor in New Mexico shows that the drought has improved a little bit. However, this region has improved more than the rest of the state. Curry County has improved fro exceptional drought to extreme drought in the southeast corner, while in Roosevelt County nearly all the exceptional drought has been lowered to extreme, and the eastern portion of the county has been lowered to severe drought.
  • Although the drought has improved since June, it has worsened since April 16.
  • The drought is projected to continue but improve through Oct. 31.
  • The El Nino-La Nina cycle is neutral, but that could change. El Nino brings wetter weather to New Mexico and La Nina brings drier weather.
  • New Mexico is experiencing a reverse monsoon. Normally the monsoon comes up from Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico. This year it is going through Arizona, Nevada and Utah and circling back down through Wyoming and Colorado to New Mexico. The state has experience a reverse monsoon pattern 14 times in the last 50 years.

Rep. Larry Larranaga of Bernalillo County asked Jones if he knew why there was a lack of moisture from tropical systems coming to New Mexico.

Jones said it is true that there has been a lack of tropical systems making their way to New Mexico over the last few years. He said it is too soon to tell if it is a result of climate change or a shift in weather patterns.

The drought subcommittee will meet three more times this year.

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