Disappointing start to monsoon season leaves Farmington high and dry

Only 0.17 inches of moisture has fallen in last 2 1/2 months

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Afternoon clouds build in the sky above a sandstone formation at the Glade Run Recreation Area north of Farmington on Aug. 2.
  • Only 0.05 inches of precipitation fell in July at the Four Corners Regional Airport.
  • The normal total for the month at that location is 1.22 inches.
  • As of Aug. 2, Farmington had accumulated 5.67 inches of precipitation for the year.

FARMINGTON — Well, that didn't take long.

A cold, wet start to 2019 that lifted San Juan County out of a major drought has dissipated over the last two months, once again leaving the area short of precipitation.

A disappointing start to the monsoon season saw only 0.05 inches of precipitation fall in July at the Four Corners Regional Airport, according to Sharon Sullivan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. The normal total for the month at that location is 1.22 inches, and that smattering of rain at the airport was especially disappointing when compared to last year's July total of 1.32 inches.

As of Aug. 2, Farmington had accumulated 5.67 inches of precipitation for the year. The normal total for that date is 5.81, Sullivan said.

The deficit is the result of a rapid drying-out of the area. As recently as July 29, Farmington's precipitation for the year was still at or slightly above normal, but that changed to a deficit the next day, according to Sullivan.

A National Weather Service forecast calls for an increased chance of monsoon rain in the Farmington area this weekend and next weekend.

Farmington has received little to no precipitation for the last two and a half months. On May 21, the day after a late-spring snowstorm rolled through the county, a robust 5.5 inches of moisture already had been recorded for the year in the city. That bounty helped lift San Juan County out of extreme or exceptional drought, the two most severe drought classifications designated by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

But since late May, moisture has been hard to come by in San Juan County, with a mere 0.17 inches falling from the sky.

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Forecasters originally believed there was a decent chance the rain would continue to fall this summer. The NWS forecast for New Mexico issued in the middle of June called for an average to above-average monsoon season across the state, the three-month period when the state historically receives most of its rain. But so far, at least, that moisture largely has failed to materialize.

"It's been hit and miss, so far," Sullivan said, characterizing monsoon activity across the state. She said the metropolitan Albuquerque area has seen anywhere from a half inch to 2 inches of precipitation, but even that pales in comparison to the July 2018 totals, when some stations in the are reported 7 to 8 inches.

Runoff from a heavy snowpack in the San Juan Mountains north of Farmington has kept local rivers and streams running at a healthy level all summer.

The parts of the state that have seen noteworthy monsoon activity have changed from week to week, she said. Last week, Santa Fe, Las Vegas and the East Mountains outside Albuquerque reported a fair amount of activity, but the week before that, it was the east-southeast portion of the state.

That general dearth of moisture has left most of the state parked in an abnormally dry to moderate drought classification, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Most of San Juan County is in the former.

But there are reasons for optimism, at least in the near-term future, Sullivan said. A weather pattern was moving in that was expected to provide above-average chances of precipitation for the northwest corner of the state through Aug. 4. After a brief dry-out, chances of rain are expected to increase again next weekend.

"There's still a possibility for the rest of this month into September we can bump those numbers a little more," Sullivan said.

She acknowledged that the monsoon season has failed to meet expectations to this point. But she said it's too early to write it off.

"We're still optimistic about the upcoming weeks and the upcoming systems," she said. "They could deliver a punch of rainfall during that time."

The Animas River nearly ran dry through Farmington last summer, but it has remained full of water this year.

Even if they don't, most of New Mexico is in a far better position in terms of drought than it was a year ago. For proof of that, Farmington residents need look no further than the Animas River, which essentially ran dry through the city last summer. In early July 2018, a gauge on the river registered a flow of zero cubic feet per second on at least two days.

More:Gauge registers no flow in Animas River in Farmington

This year, the river's flow has been strong since the heavy snowpack began melting in the spring. On Aug. 2, it registered a flow of 1,130 cfs.

The long-term outlook for the state is a toss-up, Sullivan said. The NWS one-month forecast calls for above-normal precipitation for the central and western portions of the state. But the three-month outlook shows a probability of above-average temperatures and equal chances of above-average and below-average precipitation.

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In the meantime, Sullivan said the next 10 days or so could bring a chance in the hot-and-dry pattern that has become established in San Juan County.

"This may be the best chance at rain-producing storms for the area," she said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.