Monsoon has brought rain to most of state, but Four Corners area still catching up

San Juan County mired deeply in drought despite recent rain

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • Some parts of southeast New Mexico already have seen 10 to 15 inches of rain this summer.
  • As of late July, the Four Corners Regional Airport had seen three-quarters of its normal moisture for June and July.
  • More than 66% of New Mexico is still classified as being in severe drought or worse.

FARMINGTON — Much of the rest of the western United States may be experiencing a nightmarish summer with record heat waves and enormous wildfires, but most of New Mexico has enjoyed an unexpectedly good monsoon season so far.

Brian Guyer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said the summer storm pattern has outperformed expectations across the state, with some parts of New Mexico having received considerably more than their normal precipitation in June and perhaps July.

"Much of eastern New Mexico, southern New Mexico and western New Mexico from Gallup up to Cuba have done well," Guyer said, although he noted that the moisture wealth has not been shared evenly.

"The Four Corners is still lacking some of the better precipitation," he said.

All that rain has come as a welcome change for those who have grown weary of seeing weak monsoon seasons across the state in recent years. For most of the 21st century, New Mexico has received little moisture from the seasonal thunderstorms that historically have developed across the region in the summer, bringing not just precipitation, but cooler temperatures, as well.

Late-afternoon storm clouds have become a regular sight over San Juan County over the second half of July, but the Four Corners trails other parts of New Mexico in monsoon precipitation.

But this summer has been much more like the monsoon seasons of old, with thunder, lightning, locally heavy rain and relief from the summer heat occurring on a near-daily basis around the state.

That change for the better has taken place despite a monsoon season forecast that wasn't optimistic. In early June, the weather service predicted there was a likelihood of below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures for New Mexico in July, August and September.

Instead, the rain started falling in late June and has continued in some parts of the state since then. Guyer said the monsoon has brought abundant moisture to the areas around Roswell, Carlsbad, Ruidoso and Cloudcroft.

"Some have seen 10 to 15 inches (of rain) so far," he said. "It's a lot down there. … June was really wet down there in the southwest part of the state."

Also faring well were the Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences areas, he said.

"They received 300% to 500% of normal in June," he said, referring to the normal rainfall those communities see in that month.

The Four Corners hasn't seen that kind of precipitation this summer, but that doesn't mean it's been a disappointing monsoon here so far, according to Guyer.

"Actually, the Four Corners was above normal for June," he said. "July hasn't been fantastic, but it's been OK."

At the Four Corners Regional Airport in Farmington, which is the official weather service reporting station for Farmington, 0.65 inches of precipitation was recorded in June. As of July 29, 0.42 inches of moisture had fallen in July, bringing the total for the two months to 1.07 inches — approximately three-quarters of the normal total for those two months.

Guyer said the chances of additional precipitation falling over the weekend are good, meaning Farmington could wind up right at normal or perhaps a little better than normal by the time the month ends.

Conditions on the upswing

All that rain has put a significant dent in the drought that has gripped New Mexico for the past two-plus years. Guyer pointed to the U.S. Drought Monitor map that charts conditions across the state and said it has changed dramatically this summer.

With precipitation chances lingering through the weekend, San Juan County stands a good chance of continuing to whittle away at its moisture deficit, the National Weather Service says.

"We are down to 9% of the state being in (exceptional drought), which is the worst category," he said. "Last week, it was 22%, so that's been cut in more than half over the last week. And three months ago, it was over half the state in (exceptional drought)."

Unfortunately, the Four Corners is one of the few parts of New Mexico that has not seen major improvements. Most of the northern half of San Juan County remains in exceptional drought, while the rest of the county is still in extreme drought, the second-worst category, or severe drought, the-third worst category.

And a full two-thirds of New Mexico — more than 66% — remains in severe drought or worse.

Nevertheless, the situation has gotten much better much faster than most folks could have hoped for. Guyer said official rainfall totals for different locations around the state won't be released until Aug. 7, so it will be difficult to put this monsoon season in a historic context until then.

But he said even the preliminary totals reveal this has been one of the wetter — and perhaps the wettest — monsoon seasons New Mexico has seen this century.

"You have to go back to 2000 to see a statewide average to see this or higher," he said, although he noted that the heavy rainfall that has fallen in some parts of New Mexico has skewed that figure. " … The numbers from the southeast part of the state are so high they might be a little misrepresentative."

Guyer said an interesting feature of this summer's monsoon is that it has not followed the traditional pattern.

"We've gotten the moisture. It's just that the pattern is backward," he said.

The monsoon usually forms when the high-pressure dome moves over the lower Mississippi River valley, allowing moisture to flow into the Southwest from the south to the north, he said. But this summer, New Mexico saw a good deal of moisture enter the state from the Gulf of Mexico and Texas in June, and that was coupled with several back-door cold fronts, Guyer said.

"In July, we've seen some pretty decent moisture flooding in from the Gulf of California and Mexico," he said. "And that's allowed things to filter into the rest of the state."

Guyer said many of those systems simply haven't been strong enough to reach the Four Corners, and that is why the region hasn't received as much rainfall as so many other parts of the state. But he acknowledged San Juan County seems to have fared better in that regard over the last 10 days or so, and he said there is good reason to think that trend will continue in the near future.

"You'll probably make some headway to begin the month of August," Guyer said.

For the remainder of the monsoon season, which traditionally stretches into late September, the outlook isn't as good. But he noted that is not unusual.

"September and October will start to dry out, and the monsoon will fizzle out," he said referring to the weather service's 90-day outlook. "So it could be a big start and a disappointing finish, maybe, but it's hard to say."

Guyer indicated the moisture that already has fallen may have made this monsoon season a success regardless of what happens the rest of the summer.

"It's probably going to end up above normal, but the frequency of the thunderstorms will start to diminish as we get further into August," he said.

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