Bitter cold expected in Four Corners area, but dry conditions likely to continue

National Weather Service says chances for precipitation remain slim

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • Overnight wind chill factors for the next couple of days could be below zero, the National Weather Service says.
  • Temperatures are expected to rebound into the middle 40s by the middle of next week.
  • The Farmington area hasn’t seen significant precipitation since a Nov. 3 storm dumped 0.42 inches of moisture at the Four Corners Regional Airport.

FARMINGTON — San Juan County residents are in for perhaps their coldest weather of the season over the next few days, but the prospects for additional precipitation are dim as 2022 draws to a close.

The National Weather Service office in Albuquerque is forecasting frigid weather for the Four Corners area on Dec. 16. An overnight low of 10 degrees is expected to be coupled with northwest winds of 10 to 15 mph to produce a wind chill as low as 5 degrees below zero on the morning of Dec. 16. The mercury is expected to plunge even lower that night, reaching 4 degrees with continued wind.

Daytime highs are not expected to provide much relief from the cold.

“Farmington, in particular, will barely be getting above freezing as we get into the weekend,” said Bladen Breitreiter, a meteorologist for the weather service. “You’ll have lows in the single digits, although it will start to rebound before the weekend is out. You should see a warming trend by the middle of next week.”

Those bitterly cold and windy conditions will not carry with them the chance of snow, Breitreiter said, as the forecast calls for mostly clear skies for the next several days, with highs reaching the middle 40s by the middle of next week.

That trend would continue a lengthy dry stretch in the Farmington area, which hasn’t seen significant precipitation since a Nov. 3 storm dumped 0.42 inches of moisture at the Four Corners Regional Airport.

As of Dec. 14, 6.69 inches of precipitation had fallen at the airport for the year, Breitreiter said. The normal total for that date is 7.1 inches, he said.

The chances for additional moisture falling in the Farmington area over the remainder of 2022 are not good, according to the National Weather Service, but the southwest Colorado snowpack ranked at 100% of normal on Dec. 13.

But unless Farmington sees a sizable storm over the last 2½ weeks of the year, it once again will fall short of its normal annual precipitation, which is based on a 30-year average. That figure is 7.76 inches, Breitreiter said, meaning the city is more than an inch short of that total as the end of the year approaches.

Farmington saw 6.71 inches of moisture in 2021, he said, a total it could wind up nearly duplicating this year.

Breitreiter noted that a very dry start to the year put Farmington behind the pace in terms of moisture, so even though the summer monsoon season was good and the rain continued into fall, it hasn’t been enough to allow the city to make up that early deficit.

“You got a bit of a boost in early October, and that’s what puts you where you’re at right now,” he said.

Breitreiter said a large system is expected to move down from the Arctic in the days just before Christmas, but he said it might be too much to hope for to see it produce any precipitation this far south.

“It could dip low enough down where we could see some precipitation in the tip of the Four Corners area,” he said. “But it looks like it’s going to stay more in the Colorado-Wyoming area.”

That kind of flow is typical of what happens in a La Niña year, which North America is experiencing for the third straight winter, he said.

“La Niña winters really lean toward high precipitation events staying more northerly, in the northern Rockies and northern Great Plains,” he said.

Those conditions are expected to persist into the new year, Breitreiter said. The weather service’s 90-day forecast models indicate a likelihood of below-average precipitation for the Four Corners region, while the odds of warmer-than-average temperatures are strongly favored.

“That said, there is some hope on the horizon,” he said, noting that some data indicate the Pacific Ocean may be ready to shed some of the heat that has been building in its waters for the last three years, an event that might lead to more moisture for the American Southwest in 2023.

Other good news can be found in the state of the snowpack in southwest Colorado. The lack of moisture in San Juan County in recent weeks has not been duplicated there, leaving the snow water equivalent in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers basin at 100% of normal on Dec. 13, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Data from the U.S. Drought Monitor is even more encouraging. It shows that San Juan County is free of exceptional and extreme drought, the two worst categories, while only 15% of the county is in severe drought. The rest of the county is in moderate drought or is classified as being abnormally dry.

That compares very favorably to conditions a year ago, when more than three-quarters of San Juan County was in extreme drought and the rest of it was in severe drought.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 Support local journalism with a digital subscription: