FARMINGTON — A series of winter storms that began in mid-December provided some relief to an increasingly parched San Juan County and is slowly building snowpack, experts say.
With possible snow showers in the area New Year's Eve, drought conditions in the Four Corners are improving, but late-winter weather could negate any gains.
Going into the season, anything was possible, said Jason Frazier, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Albuquerque office.
In December, the average snowfall for the region was nearly five inches.
"Compared to last year, we're lagging a little," Frazier said. "Most areas were above or near normal (last year)."
As of Dec. 26, the water level at Navajo Dam was at 6,025 feet above sea level, or 57 percent of its full capacity, said Susan Behery, a hydrologic engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's, Western Colorado Area Office in Durango.
The level is 74 percent of its average level for late-December and outflow from the dam is about 2 to 3 times the rate of inflow, she said.
"Inflow is pretty low for this time of year," Behery said.
Lower than average levels of precipitation and the dry soil conditions are contributing to a lack of runoff, she said.
Any water that would normally flow into the river systems is being absorbed by the earth, she said.
"The snowpack is building, but it's a little slower than normal," Behery said.
The gauge above Navajo Dam is recording 5.4 inches of snow-water equivalent, or about 74 percent of the average measurement for this time of year, she said.
"These last few storms were helpful," she said. "That has made a pretty significant impact, but we need a pretty good snowpack to not repeat what happened last year."
Last year, snow stopped falling during the transition between winter and spring. The dry conditions and rising temperatures melted the snowpack earlier than normal.
"The last few years, it's gotten earlier and earlier," she said. "If we have the same conditions, we may not look so good."
According to Frazier, these winter to spring transition storms could pay a major role in determining whether the Four Corners remains in a drought.
"The biggest key is storms during the transition to spring to maintain the snowpacks," he said.