Hydrologist: Monsoon storms likely won't end the drought

Storms expected in Farmington area this weekend

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Heavy clouds form over the La Plata Mountains north of Farmington Friday as seen from N.M. Highway 371 south of Farmington.
  • Farmington has received less than half of its normal precipitation since Oct. 1.
  • As dry as this year has been, conditions were even worse in 2001.
  • Current ocean conditions indicate that an El Niño pattern is developing, which could bring more precipitation to the Four Corners come winter.

FARMINGTON — The Farmington area has seen less than half of its usual precipitation since October, and a National Weather Service official says even the arrival of the monsoon season is unlikely to end the drought.

Forecasters say a storm this weekend could bring between ¼ inch and ½ inch of moisture to localized areas within San Juan County, improving the local moisture situation.

But Royce Fontenot, a senior service hydrologist for the NWS in Albuquerque, said a lot more rain is needed.

“It’s going to take a lot of precipitation to get you out of drought,” he said.

Fontenot said the water year starts Oct. 1. He said generally from Oct. 1 to mid-July the Farmington area sees about 5.6 inches of precipitation. This water year, the weather station at the Farmington Agricultural Science Center has recorded 2.36 inches of precipitation.

“You’re looking well below normal right now,” he said.

Fontenot compared drought to malnutrition.

“If someone gives you a cheeseburger, and you haven’t eaten in days, you’re going to have a burst of energy,” he said.

However, he said it will take a long time for the ecosystem to recover from drought.

Fontenot said this is not the driest year in Farmington’s history. Between Oct. 1, 2001, and mid-July 2002 the science center recorded a mere 2.17 inches of precipitation.

The lack of moisture this year has led to extreme drought conditions throughout the Four Corners. Both Farmington and Aztec have implemented water restrictions, and burn bans are in effect across the county. Even so, Farmington and Aztec have managed to fill their reservoirs that store drinking water.

A lack of precipitation over the past several months caused the Animas River to run almost dry in Farmington earlier this month.

Fontenot said winter snowstorms in the southwest Colorado mountains are also needed, as the snowpack in the mountains feeds the Animas River. A lack of winter snow this year contributed to the low water level in the Animas River. In early July, a gauge in the river in Farmington registered zero cubic feet per second, though recent rainfall has led to more water flowing in the river.

Current ocean conditions indicate that an El Niño pattern is developing. If the El Niño does develop, it likely will bring more snowpack and moisture to the Four Corners area come winter.

The monsoon season also brings some dangers. Lightning caused 25 fires over the past weekend in the eastern part of the county, County Fire Chief Craig Daugherty told the County Commission on Tuesday.

The moisture could also lead to flash floods.

“Rain doesn’t have to be overhead to get the arroyo to flood,” Fontenot said.

He said the burn scars from the 416 and Burro fires in southwest Colorado will be particularly susceptible to flooding.

Fotnenot warned that people should not try to cross flooded arroyos or drive on flooded roads.

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