NWS forecast leans toward drier, hotter monsoon season this summer

Forecasters say rainy season could be a bust again

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Storm clouds form over the Glade Run Recreation Area in August 2019. The run of poor monsoon seasons the Four Corners area has seen for the past several years could continue this summer, according to a forecast from the National Weather Service.
  • There is a likelihood of below-average precipitation and above-temperatures expected for the region in July, August and September.
  • Many of the driest monsoon seasons in the Four Corners over the last 20 years have come since the turn of the century.
  • Monsoon Awareness Week will be held June 13-18.

FARMINGTON — The annual monsoon forecast for northern and central New Mexico from the National Weather Service office in Albuquerque has an all-too-familiar ring to it, as officials are saying there is a likelihood of below-average precipitation and above-temperatures expected for the region in July, August and September.

If that forecast proves to be on target, it would be another poor monsoon season for a region that has grown used to them in the 21st century. Many of the driest monsoon seasons in the Four Corners over the last 20 years have come since the turn of the century. And it has been many several years since the Farmington area has seen a good monsoon season.

Daniel Porter, a meteorologist for the weather servi in Albuquerque, said the odds favor a three-month period of relatively dry and hot summer in northern and central New Mexico, including San Juan County. But he cautioned that even if that prediction comes to pass, that doesn't mean some locally heavy rainstorms are out of the question.

"Some locations can be wetter, while others can get not so much precipitation," he said.

Porter urged residents throughout the region to be ready for whatever the summer storm season brings.

"Preparedness and safety are always front and center," he said.

In the past, monsoon season has brought with it plenty of lightning, high winds and downpours that can result in local flooding, he said. And even in the midst of a "dry" year, those phenomena can occur in New Mexico, he said.

"Those hazards will still be present during monsoon season, Porter said.

National Weather Service officials in Albuquerque say conditions are pointing to an average to below-average monsoon season for northern and central New Mexico.

With that thought in mind, the NWS and other weather agencies throughout the Southwest and Great Basin are joining forces to promote Monsoon Awareness Week June 13-18, he said. The campaign will consist of messages and videos posted on the agencies' social media platforms and websites that warn residents of monsoon hazards.

But monsoon rains have become increasingly rare in northwest New Mexico in the 21st century, Porter acknowledged.

"Yeah, it hasn't been a pretty picture for the Four Corners," he said.

That's not to say this year's forecast is guaranteed to be spot on or that conditions can't change quickly. Porter pointed to the case of Roswell in southeast New Mexico, which had seen only 0.94 inches of moisture this year before Memorial Day weekend. That town picked up several inches of rain in two days last weekend and now sits at 5.99 inches for the year, meaning it went from 2 inches below average to 3 inches above average in less than 48 hours.

"That can really skew your stats," Porter said.

Nevertheless, that rainfall largely was confined to Roswell itself, meaning the rest of the area remained bone dry.

"All other areas in Chaves County, their story hasn't changed a bit," he said. "That's what monsoon season is like. There are going to be winners and less-fortunate areas."

Porter said the Four Corners Regional Airport in Farmington had seen 1.96 inches of moisture for the year through June 1. The normal amount for that date is a little more than 3 inches.

The Four Corners area used to be able to rely on plentiful precipitation during monsoon season, but that pattern has been largely nonexistent in the 21st century.

That figure mirrors what the city saw last year, when the airport also was reporting slightly less than 3 inches on June 1. For that same date in 2019, he said, the airport already had recorded 5.54 inches of moisture.

But the monsoon picture for both those years was grim. Porter said 2019 and 2020 represented two of the driest monsoon seasons on record for the Four Corners since record keeping began in 1942. Other exceptionally dry monsoon seasons have occurred in the region in 2000, 2001 and 2009, he said.

"The worst five years have all been in the 2000s," he said.

The Four Corners hasn't seen a good monsoon season since 2013, Porter said.

He said conditions largely have been the same for nearby Chama, which experienced exceptionally dry monsoon seasons in 2004, 2011, 2018, 2019 and 2020. That town also had a plentiful monsoon in 2013, and it experienced above-average precipitation during the season in 2015 and 2017.

Porter acknowledged the likelihood that even an average or close to average monsoon season in San Juan County this year might seem like a big year, given the way things have gone for the past several seasons.

"When you get so used to being below normal in precipitation and you get a bumper crop year, you kind of think, 'What's going on here?'" he said.

He said the trend throughout most of the 21st century has been toward less-productive monsoon seasons in New Mexico, something that has been reflected in the National Weather Service updates of "normal" moisture totals and temperatures for communities across New Mexico.

"There's a trend – there's a clear trend going on," he said.

Porter said those normals reflect a 30-year average and are updated every 10 years. The agency recently updated the normal for New Mexico to incorporate the data from 1990 to 2020.

"The new normals have gone down for precipitation, and temperatures have gone up," he said. "Climate change is having an impact on New Mexico right there."

But weather patterns are cyclical, and Porter cautioned against reading too much into the data from just the last 30 years. He said it would take decades of data for weather forecasting professionals to draw the conclusion that monsoon season has become a thing of the past in the desert Southwest.

"It is too early to know, but there are certainly some signals," he said. "Climate change is a factor in that, but I would be careful about saying the monsoon is dead."

The NWS monsoon forecast can be found at weather.gov/abq/ under the "News Headlines" link.

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