December brought much-needed moisture to Farmington, but not enough to break drought

City endures another year with below-average precipitation

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Farmington may have experienced a relatively wet end to 2021, but that didn't help the city snap out of the drought that has plagued San Juan County for the last two years.

As of Dec. 30, the Four Corners Regional Airport had received 1.28 inches of precipitation for December – more than twice the normal amount for that date, which is 0.57 inches, according to Annette Mokry, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.

That total was buoyed by a Christmas Eve storm that dumped 0.64 inches of moisture on the city, she said.

And more precipitation was scheduled to fall in the closing days of the year, with another storm system set to blow through over the weekend, leaving behind temperatures in the low single digits.

But even that burst was not likely to bring Farmington up to its 30-year average of moisture for the year. Mokry said the city had seen 6.68 inches of moisture for 2021 as of Dec. 30, while the average total since 1991 is 7.76 inches.

A round of late-December storms brought some much-needed moisture to San Juan County, but the area remains mired in a two-year drought.

According to The Daily Times archives, Farmington's precipitation totals for the past several years have varied widely. In 2015, the city drew 11.3 inches, but that fell to 7.33 inches in 2016, 7.58 in 2017, 4.32 in 2018, 8.1 in 2019 and a paltry 3.37 in 2020, its lowest total in at least 23 years. The city has reached double digits in moisture only twice in the last 24 years – 2015 and 2010, when 10.16 inches fell.

Most of San Juan County remains locked in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which is the second-worst classification. The county's northeast and southwest corners are the exception, but they are in extreme drought, which is the third-worst classification.

Still, the county is in a better position than it was in late December 2020, when three-quarters of its territory was in exceptional drought, the worst classification. The rest of the county was in extreme drought then.

San Juan County saw a dusting of snow and frigid temperatures as 2021 came to a close, but with La Nina conditions prevailing in the Pacific Ocean, the long-term moisture outlook for the winter remains poor.

Even better news is the condition of the snowpack in southwest Colorado. According to the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins Time Series Snowpack Summary produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the snowpack stood at 108% of average on Dec. 27, with more accumulation expected over the final days of the year.

That was well ahead of last year's pace and close to matching the 2020 showing, when the snowpack wound up being close to the historical average for the winter.

But those conditions may not last long. Mokry said a warming and drying trend is in the forecast for the first week of January, and she noted this is an El Niño year in the Pacific Ocean, which usually means above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation for the American Southwest.

"That would be about what we would expect," she said.

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