Snowpack rebounds with recent storms, but drought remains entrenched

More moisture could be headed this way later in week

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Recent storms rolling in from the Pacific have replenished the snowpack in the San Juan Mountains as seen from Crouch Mesa on March 23, 2020.
  • The snowpack in the San Juans has been trending sharply upward since the second week in March.
  • Snowpack conditions are now close to normal again.
  • Another storm system is headed toward New Mexico later this week.

FARMINGTON —Even as worries about the spread of the coronavirus continue to weigh heavily on the minds of San Juan County residents, the area has gotten some good news of late. The passage of storm systems have replenished the snowpack in the mountains of southwest Colorado, somewhat easing drought concerns.

As of March 20, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's snowpack summary for the Dolores, San Miguel, Animas and San Juan river basins showed the snowpack has been trending sharply upward since the second week in March, reaching 98 percent of the median and 94 percent of average. Those figures did not reflect any of the precipitation that fell on the San Juan Mountains over the weekend, which likely left the basin's snowpack at or perhaps even above normal.

Those figures were in the low 70s in early March

Chuck Jones, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said that snowfall activity reflects a larger pattern of moisture falling across much of the Southwest.

"We've had a reasonably active weather pattern," he said. "We've been getting systems coming in off the Pacific. They've been impacting New Mexico with substantial moisture from the south and southwest. As a result, we've had a couple of systems that have come by and impacted some areas and not others."

More precipitation could be in the works for the Four Corners area over the next several days before conditions begin to dry out again next week, forecasters say.

Jones said southern and central New Mexico have been the main beneficiaries of those systems. For instance, Roosevelt County on the Texas border between Roswell and Clovis has reported 2.3 inches of precipitation so far this month. A reporting station near Clovis has seen 2.16 inches, and the Roswell airport has reported 2.07 inches.

San Juan County hasn't been as fortunate, but it has received a decent amount of moisture. A reporting station 2 miles south of Farmington led the way with 1.11 inches, followed by Aztec at 1.03 inches. Another station 3 miles northeast of Farmington has seen 0.93 inches, and the Four Corners Regional Airport in Farmington has seen 0.92.

"That's not bad for March," Jones said.

The moisture the state has seen this month was badly needed after an extended dry pattern that set in with the new year. Jones said locations in New Mexico had a good early-season snowpack, but the snow stopped falling in late January and early February, and conditions remained very dry in most places until recently.

Chances of additional precipitation were in the forecast for the afternoon and evening of March 23, and Jones said another compact system was headed New Mexico's way later in the week.

The snowpack in the Dolores, San Miguel, Animas and San Juan river basins has rebounded sharply in middle and late March, reaching the approximate historic average for this time of year.

"That should arrive Thursday or Friday," he said, though he noted its impact likely would be light, perhaps in the neighborhood of one-tenth of an inch each day.

And the passage of that system could herald an end to the recent moist conditions. Jones said things are expected to dry out after that with temperatures climbing and spring conditions setting in.

So even though the snowpack may be in decent shape now, it may not remain there for long. Jones said the forecast calls for river flows from the San Juans this spring to be 83 to 90 percent of average.

"It'll be below normal, but not terribly below normal," Jones said.

The long-range forecast for the region is basically a toss-up, he said.

Even with a snowpack that is close to average, runoff from the mountains of southwest Colorado is expected to be a little less than normal this spring.

"There are about equal chances for below- or near-normal precipitation," he said, adding that conditions favor higher-than-normal temperatures.

Most of San Juan County remains locked in a severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That is the third-most severe drought designation, behind extreme drought and exceptional drought. Only a long, narrow strip of western San Juan County bordering Arizona is designated as falling in the moderate drought category.

Much of neighboring Rio Arriba and McKinley counties also are designated as being in extreme drought, as are parts of Union, Mora and Colfax counties. The entire southern half of the state is drought free.

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