Trio of storms expected to bring moisture to Four Corners over weekend

Most powerful system is due for arrival Saturday night

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The Farmington area could see 1 to 3 inches of snow from a Feb. 13 storm.
  • That same system could dump 6 to 12 inches of snow in the mountains.
  • Most of New Mexico stands a good chance of seeing moisture from that storm.

FARMINGTON — A trio of fast-moving storm systems is expected to move through the Four Corners over the next few days, leading to a good chance of more precipitation for a region that remains sorely in need of moisture.

Coming on the heels of a warm and dry pattern that has seen temperatures in San Juan County reach into the 50s this week, the first storm is due to arrive on the morning of Feb. 12, followed by a second, more impactful storm on the evening of Feb. 13. Still another storm is expected in the evening hours of Feb. 15.

Meteorologist Todd Shoemake of the National Weather Service office in Albuquerque said the day will begin on Feb. 12 with near-freezing temperatures, followed by precipitation that could start as snow but that will quickly turn into rain.

The snowpack in the San Juan Mountains could get a boost this weekend as three storms are expected to roll through the area in quick succession.

"We may see a little bit of snow in the morning, and that will turn into showers as the temperatures warm," he said, explaining that the forecast high that day for Farmington is 48 degrees.

Showmake said that system is expected to drop only a modest amount of moisture before it departs the area that night.

"We're not really expecting anything torrential, perhaps a tenth of an inch," he said, adding that rainfall is expected to be sporadic.

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But that system is only the warm-up act for what comes next. Temperatures will climb into the low to middle 50s on Feb. 13 before conditions begin to change that night.

"On Saturday night and Sunday morning, things will begin to deteriorate pretty quickly," Shoemake said, explaining that a Pacific disturbance is expected to impact the entire state. He said that pattern likely will offer the inverse of the one preceding it, with the moisture it generates beginning as rain before giving way to snow.

"It's also going to be a little more persistent," he said. "Saturday night and Sunday morning, it will be prolonged and continuous, with just a few breaks."

Shoemake expects the high temperature to reach 39 degrees in Farmington on Feb. 14. The moisture will stop falling overnight, and the skies will clear, he said, leading to a low temperature of near 17 degrees on the morning of Feb. 15.

The Farmington area could see 1 to 3 inches of snow from that system, he said, while the Chuska and San Juan mountains could see considerably more — perhaps 6 to 12 inches.

A Jan. 19 storm dropped a blanket of snow on the Farmington area, helping the mountain snowpack inch closer to normal.

The night of Feb. 13 into the early-morning hours of Feb. 14 offer the best chances for precipitation, he said, with a 70% to 80% probability of moisture. The storm will move through most of New Mexico, with snow also forecast in the north-central mountains and even the southern half of the state under a 60% to 70% probability of seeing precipitation.

The third and final system is expected to arrive the night of Feb. 15 and linger into the next day. That one is likely to be the least powerful, offering only a 30% to 40% probability of moisture for the Farmington area.

"Basically, it's a parade of storms, one after another. But the last one is not quite as significant. It's a quick hitter," he said, adding that some locations in the Four Corners could see 1 to 2 inches of snow from that system.

That relatively wet forecast serves as more good news for an area that saw a decent amount of moisture in January after experiencing an exceptionally dry year in 2020. After starting the year with a snowpack in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins that was approximately 60% of average, the snowpack steadily crept higher through the first five weeks of 2021. It stood at 79% of average on Feb. 8, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's snowpack summary.

Shoemake expects that figure to be even higher by early next week, though he cautioned this series of storms won't provide enough moisture to get the Farmington area out of the hole it has fallen into over the last year.

"I don't know if we'll quite get back to 100% or better, but we will be creeping closer," he said. "It won't be a drought buster, but every little bit helps, of course."

With a La Nina pattern having set up in the Pacific Ocean last fall — a phenomenon that typically results in above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation in the American Southwest — a reasonable case can be made that this winter has been a little wetter than what might have been expected in the region, Shoemake acknowledged.

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"I think we're a little bit surprised that we are getting as much precipitation as we are," he said. "But it's still not quite up to average."

Once this series of storms blows through, a warmer, drier pattern is likely to re-emerge for the following several weeks, Shoemake said.

"We're still predicting the likelihood of above-normal temperatures into springtime, along with below-normal precipitation," he said. "There's not likely to be much of a deviation from that."

But for the next several days, most of New Mexico, not just San Juan County, will see a return to winter, he said. Shoemake advised anyone planning on traveling to the eastern part of the state or the Great Plains to think twice, as temperatures there are expected to plummet into the single digits or below zero, and wind chill factors will be even lower.

"With the snow we're expecting, that will make for some pretty treacherous travel," he said.

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