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Weak monsoon leads to another abnormally dry summer in Farmington

Last two summers have been ones for the record books

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
A good portion of the Animas River bed lies exposed to the sun on Aug. 26, 2020, in Berg Park in Farmington after another summer of below-average rainfall.
  • The Four Corners Regional Airport received only 0.34 inches of precipitation for the 84-day period running from June 1 through Aug. 23.
  • That ranks as the third-driest year for that period since record keeping began in 1941.
  • Farmington also has set or tied several records this month for high temperatures.

FARMINGTON — As much as it may have seemed otherwise, it has not been a record-breaking dry summer in the Farmington area. But it didn't miss the mark by far.

According to a weekly briefing issued Aug. 24 by the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, the Four Corners Regional Airport received only 0.34 inches of precipitation for the 84-day period running from June 1 through Aug. 23. That ranks as the third-driest year for that period since record keeping began in 1941.

And if any of that sounds familiar, it should. It was only last year — June 1 through Aug. 23, 2019 — that Farmington tied the record for that driest 84-day period with only 0.13 inches of precipitation, a mark shared by 1962.

NWS forecasters weren't surprised by last year's dearth of moisture, but they had higher hopes for this summer, issuing a forecast earlier this year that indicated the southwestern United States was likely to experience a near-average to average monsoon season. Given the aforementioned figures, it might be fair say this year's monsoon has been a disappointment.

"Yeah, more than fair, I would say," said Randall Hergert, an NWS meteorologist in Albuquerque.

Farmington isn't alone in experiencing parched conditions. Hergert referred to an NWS map that tracks precipitation as a percentage of normal across the state, and he said it showed that only one location — Clayton, which is in Union County in far-northeast New Mexico — is the only place in the state that has reported normal or above-normal rainfall.

"Everywhere else has been below normal," Hergert said.

The monsoon season started out on a promising note, as a series of storms moved through the state in late July. Those systems brought some locally heavy rainfall to the Farmington area, dropping more than an inch of rain in some areas, as monsoons are wont to do.

But that moisture apparently didn't reach the airport, where only 0.13 inches was recorded. And since that time, precipitation throughout the county has been spotty at best.

Above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall have combined to take a toll on the Animas River in Farmington.

Hergert said an enormous high-pressure system set up over the Great Basin several weeks ago and has remained parked there.

"That's played a big role in blocking the monsoon flow into the Four Corners region and much of the Southwest," he said. "We usually would have seen several good monsoon flows by this time of year, but this season, we've only seen one."

Conditions were expected to moderate this weekend, with slightly increased chances for rainfall and cooler temperatures. But Hergert said that change doesn't indicate a return of the monsoon.

"I wouldn't call the current situation the typical monsoon pattern by any means," he said, indicating the sporadic rainfall parts of San Juan County saw this week is simply the result of moisture drifting off the mountains in the afternoons. "By no means is this what we really want to see in a true monsoon pattern."

More:Recent monsoon storms brought an inch of rain to Farmington

The long-term forecast doesn't offer much hope. Hergert said he has seen two models that offer conflicting forecasts for the next 30 days, and that means the chances of meaningful monsoon moisture returning to the Southwest in that time are a tossup.

"It's not all that great for the Four Corners," he said.

The short-term forecast for the Farmington area shows only a 20 percent chance of showers every day through Tuesday, at which point things are expected to dry out again.

While monsoon season historically lasts through the end of September, Hergert acknowledged it may not be too early to characterize this season as another bust.

"It's certainly looking that way," he said. "We don't have much longer. We've got a little bit of time to make up ground, but it's not looking too good."

On the positive side, the area should finally see a break from the heat it has experienced for most of August. Hergert said Farmington saw high temperatures in the high 90s or even the 100s for much of the month, noting the city tied or set eight records during that time. He said five of those marks have been established since Aug. 20, with temperatures reaching their peak on that day with a high of 101 degrees. Farmington also reached triple digits on Aug. 15 and Aug. 21.

Temperatures for the next several days were expected to be considerably cooler, slowly dropping from the high 80s at the beginning of the weekend to the low 80s by the beginning of the new week. Hergert said those figures were more in tune with the normal temperature for this time of year, indicating Farmington's average high for Aug. 27 is 87 degrees.

Another takeaway from the NWS briefing issued on Aug. 24 is a long-term trend toward disappointing monsoon rainfall. Of the 10 driest years since 1941 for that June 1-Aug. 23 period, eight have come since the year 2000.

And on the flip side, of the 10 wettest years for that period, only one has come since 2000 – the year 2015, when 3 inches of rain were recorded at the airport. In fact, of those 10 wettest years, only two have been recorded since 1969.

"It certainly is not a trend we want to see," Hergert said. "It's a trend toward hotter and drier conditions in the 21st century."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.