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FARMINGTON — National Weather Service senior hydrologist Royce Fontenot said a La Niña pattern that formed in 2017 created the worst drought on record in the Four Corners region, but El Niño conditions are now helping the region emerge from the drought.

“This was a pretty devastating drought as far as how much precipitation didn’t come and when it didn’t come,” Fontenot told the San Juan Water Commission during a meeting this morning. “So those impacts are going to linger for a while.”

A La Niña develops when the surface of the Pacific Ocean near the equator is cooler than normal. That causes the jet stream to send more moisture to Southeast Asia and less moisture to the Southwest United States, Fontenot said.

“La Niña sets the stage,” Fontenot said. “But the actors could do things just a little different.”

He said La Niña does not always create drought conditions in the Four Corners, but this drought and the previous drought of 2002 were both caused by a La Niña pattern.

El Niño conditions are currently bringing more moisture to the region and the El Niño is expected to last through the summer.

The U.S. Drought Monitor currently ranks most of San Juan County as in severe drought, however that is an improvement from the extreme and exceptional drought the region has seen over the course of the past year.

While there is an above normal snowpack, and winter storms brought above normal precipitation to the region, Fontenot said the extra moisture would have to make up for the lack of winter storms the previous year and the absence of a monsoon season last fall.

However, Fontenot said the region has to balance the above normal moisture with more than a year of no snowpack, very little rain and higher temperatures leading to more evaporation and other water loss.

He anticipates the region will continue to see drought conditions through the spring, however he said the drought conditions will improve.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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