ALBUQUERQUE – New Mexico is finishing off the year without a single square mile mired by drought.
The last bit of short-term drought was erased from the state in November thanks to near- and above-normal precipitation, and National Weather Service forecasters say record snowfall in recent days has only helped to push New Mexico further in the right direction.
In fact, things haven’t looked this good since the fall of 2010.
Preliminary data released by the weather service this week shows conditions were warmer and wetter statewide through November, and although the data has yet to be crunched for December, things aren’t expected to change.
“Certainly, temperatures and precipitation will be in the top 10 warmest and wettest,” said Chuck Jones, a meteorologist with the weather service.
The data shows Clayton, for example, received more than 16 inches above its normal precipitation to mark its second wettest year on record. Albuquerque also saw above-normal precipitation and marked its seventh warmest year.
But 2015 didn’t start out so rosy.
“It started with abysmally poor numbers and poor expectations and nearly dry reservoirs,” said David Gensler, a hydrologist with the irrigation district that supplies farmers throughout the Middle Rio Grande Valley. “We were just kind of looking at disaster and wondering what we were going to do.”
Then came “Miracle May,” when the state received a healthy dose of snow in the mountains and rain in lower elevations. That boosted runoff and filled reservoirs.
The early monsoon proved fruitful too until the spigot turned off in August and September.
Had it not been for water stored in the reservoirs, Gensler said the Rio Grande would have likely gone dry in stretches well north of Bernalillo south to Elephant Butte Reservoir.
Experts say soil moisture levels – which serve as key indicators of the severity of long-term drought – have started to recover, but New Mexico is still not where it was 15 to 20 years ago.
The recent moisture has been a mixed blessing for ranchers and dairy farmers on the eastern side of the state, where last weekend’s storm dumped up to 2 feet of snow in some areas, and strong winds helped to form drifts that overtook corrals and reached the eaves of barns and bunkhouses.
The New Mexico National Guard on Wednesday continued working with state and local emergency management officials to clear county roads so people could reach their livestock.
Officials said milk was flowing again at dairies that had been socked in by the inclement weather.
All the moisture, ranchers say, should result in plentiful forage once spring rolls around.
“We’ve just got to get out from under all this snow now,” said Caren Cowan, head of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association.