Monday, August 12, 2013

Another view of Elephant Butte Reservoir

If you live in New Mexico, follow the news about the drought, and concerned about water supplies you probably have seen a graphic comparing Elephant Butte Reservoir this year with 1994. If you have not viewed this, I urge you to see it on the NASA Earth Observatory webpage. I can't count the number of times someone has emailed this to my inbox.  The number of times it has been emailed brings to attention the importance of this body of water to the region and how it responds to upstream water supply and downstream demand.  Max Bleiweiss, Director of CARSAME, printed a couple of Landsat 8 images of the reservoir about a month apart that I found striking. He compared June 6 and July 8, 2013 on a poster side by side similar to the images below.
Elephant Butte storage on June 6 was 172,470 acre-ft and 60,327 on July 8.  The July date was about the minimum storage for the year after the irrigation. I find it amazing what one month of  about 2000 cubic feet per second flow out of the reservoir can do to the appearance of the lake. Even with a record low irrigation season, you can still a lot of changes.  Since the north end (greenish color) of the reservoir is shallow, most of the changes are seen there. Based on the US Bureau of Reclamation data the difference in surface area between the two dates was 3,190 acres.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Monsoon Storms Causing Issues Across New Mexico

The past two days have been rainy ones in New Mexico. Thunderstorms in the southern and central parts of the state have brought much-needed moisture, and while residents are grateful to see some rain falling, the storms have brought along some nasty side effects.

The CoCoRaHS precipitation map for today shows rainfall amounts recorded throughout the state for the last 24 hours. CoCoRaHS volunteer observers record the amounts present in rain gauges at 7 am (or thereabouts). Many New Mexico residents reported that they experienced the rain and thunderstorms in the evening and throughout the night, times when rain is a little more likely to fall during monsoon season. Notice that only two of the counties with stations sending in reports show no precipitation falling over the last 24 hours (five counties show no stations reporting for the day, as of this morning).

Precipitation amounts for the 24 hours leading up to 7 am on July 25 for New Mexico. Source:

The precipitation map for July 24, showing precipitation accumulation for the previous 24 hours prior to 7 am on Tuesday, shows rainfall in fewer areas of the state, with the most significant rainfall occurring in the southwestern part of the state.

Precipitation amounts for the 24 hours leading up to 7 am on July 24 for New Mexico. Source:

News sources have reported on the impacts of thunderstorms that occurred throughout the state yesterday. These reports clearly show some of the weather hazards that can come with the monsoon season. The TV station KRQE out of Albuquerque reported that a car was struck by lightning while driving in Torrance County yesterday; luckily, no one was injured. Last night, many in Dona Ana County experienced a few hours straight of thunder and lightning activity. The map below shows the lightning strike frequency from 6 am on July 24 to 6 am on July 25, 2013. The red and orange colors show the highest frequencies of strikes (greater than 14 and from 8 to 13, respectively). Notice just how much of the state received lightning strikes over the past 24 hours.
Map from the Predictive Services Program. Source:

New Mexicans do see an increase in lightning and thunder this time of year. In fact, according to a report from NOAA, the region impacted by the Mexican Monsoon sees the most lightning activity in July and August of any area in the Western Hemisphere. And New Mexico has the highest rate of deaths from lightning strikes in the country at nearly two deaths per million people. NOAA has a lightning safety page to help you stay safe during thunderstorms.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that as much as two inches of rain fell in Guadalupe County yesterday and that flooding closed part of a road in Rio Rancho. KFOX 14 TV news out of El Paso reported on flooding in Vado in southern Dona Ana County. They included video of the flooding, showing the water running up to the porch of a trailer home and running in torrents down the street. Families had to be evacuated from their homes in this instance. Flash floods are a chief danger during monsoon season. They can develop and become dangerous very quickly. Today, all of southwestern and parts of central-western and central New Mexico are still under a flash flood watch. See the National Weather Service website for the latest warnings and advisories for your area.

Perhaps the most striking weather event to occur over the last few days was on Tuesday, when a microburst damaged homes and businesses in Columbus, a village in Luna County 30 miles south of Deming. A microburst is a type of downburst, which occurs when a wind rapidly descends from a thunderstorm and spreads out when it impacts the earth; a microburst is a downburst of less then 2.5 miles in diameter. This particular microburst had winds of up to 90 mph and did damage to some 29 structures in the village. No injuries were reported. Downburst winds are one of the leading causes of weather-related damage in the state.

So while you're enjoying the rain that's falling this monsoon season don't forget to be on the lookout for any potential dangers that can come with the thunderstorms, winds and lightning shows.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Drought Impacts in New Mexico this Summer

It's not news to New Mexicans that the state is in the middle of a serious drought this year. Nearly all state residents have felt the effects of the drought on some area of their lives. Certainly farmers and ranchers are feeling it in their pocketbooks this year; farmers will grow fewer crops and some ranchers are spending thousands more dollars to keep their animals fed. Homeowners find themselves sweeping layers of dust from their homes and watering even the native plants and grasses to keep them alive. New Mexicans who want to visit state or national parks might find sections closed due to fire danger. And individuals and whole communities have had to truck in water because the rain water they depend upon hasn't fallen or because their wells have run dry. The Drought Mitigation Center maintains a Drought Impact Reporter that compiles reports of drought impacts from across the country. Reading through the reports for New Mexico makes for sobering reading. There are reports from all over the state that include information on how the drought is impacting agriculture, fire, plants and wildlife, society and public health, tourism and recreation, and water supply and quality.

The map below from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows the prevalence of drought around the country.This is the latest map available, current as of July 16. The severity of the drought is shown through the colors:  light yellow areas indicate a region that is abnormally dry and the darkest red areas indicate regions that are experiencing the most severe drought.  Notice that New Mexico, the panhandle of Texas, western Oklahoma, western Kansas, western Nebraska, southeastern Colorado, the four corners region, and parts of eastern Arizona make up the epicenter of the drought. Parts of Nevada, Montana and Wyoming are also experiencing severe drought.
Source: U.S. Drought Monitor

As of July 16, the U.S. Drought Monitor has the entire state of New Mexico in a drought. In fact, we are the state that is experiencing the worst of the drought this summer. 86.07% of the state is classified as D-3 or D-4, the two most severe categories of drought. These two classifications indicate that there may be major pasture or crop loses and water restrictions (lighter red) or exceptional and widespread crop and pasture loses and shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells that create water emergencies (darker red). More information on what the colors indicate see our website here.

Source: U.S. Drought Monitor
One place that has experienced a water emergency this summer has been Magdalena. The village in Socorro County was getting water from one well, which ran dry in early June-- see this NBC News report. Village residents needed to truck in water; some county residents went to Socorro to fill their water jugs and tanks. Since then, the village has been able to get the well working again, and the village Mayor and city council decided to spend $200, 000.00 to fix the well--see the report from the newspaper El Defensor Chieftain (Socorro). But according to reports from the Albuquerque Journal, Magdalena is not the only small community in New Mexico to have water woes. It often happens that the droughts will stress the infrastructure of a small community. In fact, the 2002-2003 drought caused around 70 small communities in the state to run out of water.

The graph below shows the drought in Socorro County since January 2012. The colors show what level of drought is occurring and the percents on the left indicate how much of the county is in that level. The dates along the bottom range from January 2012 to July 22, 2013. Notice that in early 2012 of last year 90% of the county was already in severe drought (the light yellow indicates that a very low percentage of the county is just abnormally dry). This summer, more than 70% of the county is in exceptional drought and the rest is in extreme drought. The last time no part of the county was experiencing drought was in 2010.

This image was created using one of the drought products available from the New Mexico Climate Center's website. You can request drought time series like the one above for the state or for individual counties. Click here here to learn more.

Although many areas in New Mexico are experiencing some relief with rain from the monsoon season, we're going to need more than just one summer's worth of rain to get out of drought conditions. We'll need the upcoming winters to be wet, too.

In the meantime, New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service has a list of publications to help you cope with the drought in the areas of agronomy, livestock and range management, and home gardening and landscaping.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Wet Thursday Across Much of the Region

Many New Mexicans woke up to a soggy and drizzly morning today, after a week when rain fell over much of the state. Rain fell through the night in much of the southern part of the state and in the El Paso region. An upper level low pressure system has brought moisture and cooler temperatures to the area, and more rain is expected throughout the day in southern New Mexico.

Looking at the precipitation data entered for this morning at the CoCoRaHS website (CoCoRaHS is a network of volunteers who report on the precipitation that falls at their location), most of the rain is happening in the southern part of the state, although some rain was reported in Quay and Curry counties in east-central New Mexico and some in San Miguel county in the central part of the state.

Precipitation amounts for  July 18 in New Mexico. Image from

It appears as though Eddy County saw the most rainfall in the state over night, with rainfall reports in Carlsbad of over 2 inches at all six reporting stations and over 3 inches at two reporting stations. In fact, the rain in the area was so bad that Carlsbad Caverns had to be evacuated early on Wednesday. The fear of flooding is higher than usual because of a June 2011 fire that burned in the area.

This image from the National Weather Service's Midland/Odessa TX radar shows precipitation estimates in Eddy County for the time period of 4:58 CDT on Sunday, July 14 to 12:32 CDT on Thursday, July 18. The orange bands to the west and east of Carlsbad indicate rainfall estimates of between 3 and 4 inches. The yellow bands indicate estimates of 2.5 to 3 inches. The darkest green color indicates estimates of 2 to 2.5 inches; the medium green 1.5 to 2 inches; the light green 1 to 1.5 inches.
Rainfall estimates in Eddy County, NM. Radar image from the National Weather Service

The El Paso region has also received much rain since yesterday. The image below shows the precipitation reports from CoCoRaHS observers in El Paso and Hudspeth counties in Texas. The dark blue and green values show reports of up to an inch of rain; the orange values show over an inch. These reports are taken in the morning and show rain that has fallen over the last 24 hours. Hudspeth County seems to have gotten the most rain of the two counties.

Precipitation amounts for El Paso and Hudspeth counties in Texas for July 18. Image from

Much of the southern New Mexico and El Paso county are under a flash flood warning through tonight. While the monsoon brings much needed rain to the area, that rain can cause flash floods, which can occur quickly and can be dangerous. Residents should use caution when driving and avoid roads that are flooded. Floods are the number two weather-related cause of death (after heat) in the United States. See the National Weather Service for weather warnings and advisories in your area.

Rain events of this type are to be expected this time of year, when the region experiences the Mexican (or North American) Monsoon. More than half of the state's precipitation occurs during the three months of the monsoon season (July-September).

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Southwest Border Symposium

Today is the second day of the Southwest Border Symposium on Air Quality and Climate here in Las Cruces, New Mexico.We are holding this symposium at The Farm and Ranch Museum.

Picture: Farm and Ranch windmill

                                                         Picture: Farm and Ranch Patio
Pre- Symposium:

Last week was a bit hectic trying to get the last things in order, making sure all our speakers were still able to come and talk, computers having a mind of their own, and the million and 1 small things that pop up when trying to organize an event. But, we made it!

Day 1:

The morning began with setting up the computer system through CENTRA which allows high quality web conferencing. Finding out we had more people showing up than was originally planned (which in the end turned out to be wonderful) and the too hot/ too cold phenomenon that happens when a lot of people get into a room together.

The people who showed up were a fantastic wide range of professionals from Dr. Soum Sanogo, NMSU, who talked about fungi to Dr. Ilias Kavouras,  talking about Respiratory health, and out Keynote speaker Dr Jacob McDonald, from Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute.

A full schedual can be founds at:

We also had a wonderful lunch provided by Dickerson Catering who have been magnificent in giving us anything we need.

Day 2:

We have just started, but it looks to be a productive day. currently we are hearing from Dave Novlan from the National Weather Service discussing Dust Events and how to notify the public.
We are also going to hear from Tom Gill from UTEP, Juan Pedro , and Rosa Fitzgerald, discussing air quality in the border region.

Picture: Dave Novlan, NWS

Friday, April 19, 2013

ASARCO Demolition Video

As we discussed last week on this blog, the New Mexico Climate Center participated in monitoring the destruction of the ASARCO smoke stacks.  Since the ASARCO site is near the City of Sunland Park, NM and since our office is a participant in a larger border air quality study, we were interested in collecting data during this rare event.  In the weeks to come, we hope to have analysis of this event posted to this blog.  In the meantime, here is a video of the demolition.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

ASARCO Demolition

On April 13th 2013 at 6:30am the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) Copper smelting towers in El Paso, Texas will undergo controlled demolition.  Two towers dominate this site; the tallest of the towers is 828 ft and the second tower is 612 feet tall.  This site was active starting in 1887 as a lead smelter, in 1911 it was modified to smelt copper ore, then modified once again in 1948 to smelt zinc ore.  This site was "suspended" in 1999 after ASARCO declared bankruptcy and has been in legal limbo since the shutdown.  This legal limbo of the property is mostly due to the process that is used when refining copper, lead and zinc, the elements involve the use of lead, zinc, cadmium, and arsenic.  These harmful elements could result in negative health effects that could come about once this area is disturbed; for either housing, recreational, or any project that involves soil movement and disturbance of the area surrounding the smelting plant.

The New Mexico Climate Center witch is located at New Mexico State University headed by the New Mexico State Climatologist Dave Dubois, along with his graduate students Rebecca Armenta, Elizabeth Smith, Yizhi Zhao, and staff member Stan Engle plan on performing air quality measurements near the demolition project.

Visual observations will be performed by videotaping the event from 2 locations (EPA offices and UTEP) in El Paso,TX.  Air measurements will be collected at the location of the EPA offices in El Paso and include a Davis weather station to monitor weather, and fungal plates to collect fungi species in the air.   We are planning to collect PM10 concentrations at this location and in Cd. Juarez south of the demo zone.  So far the Juarez Minivol location looks to be well placed based on forecast wind patterns from the north at about 10 mph.  The Minivol Teflon filters from El Paso and Cd. Juarez will be sent to the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada for elemental analysis.  Below is our Minivol sampler in preparation in out office.

We hope this event will be non-eventful and will produce healthy readings for those in the area.  There will be an enormous amount of data after this event, not only from the NMCC but also UTEP engineering department, the contractor, TCEQ, Juarez Air Quality, and numerous other agencies' conducting their own collections.  We hope to have some analysis of this event in a few weeks.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Tucumcari ASC Radio Telemetry

Several weeks ago, I talked about our efforts to update the Fabian Garcia Science Center weather station to a radio telemetry system.  Today, I'll discuss the radio upgrade to the weather station at the Tucumcari Agricultural Science Center in November of 2010.

Prior to November of 2010, the weather station at Tucumcari ASC communicated with our office via a phone line connection.  This connection was relatively stable, but we still decided to be proactive in moving away from the phone line.  So, on November 18th, 2010, Dr. Dave DuBois and I left Las Cruces for Tucumcari, bringing two RF401 radios and an NL100 network link interface with us.

Traveling to Tucumcari took about 5 hours.  Once we were there, setting up the radios was a fairly straightforward affair.  First, we set up the office radio and network link device.  Because the science center's office was built before networking technology was so commonplace, we were limited to where we could put these devices.  Our best option was in the conference room, where there is a window looking out towards the weather station.

I connected the NL100 to the network and confirmed that we could "see" the device on the network.  Next, I connected the RF401 radio to the NL100.  We used a 1db dipole window mount antenna with the office RF401, although we didn't mount the antenna in the window.

At the weather station, I pulled the phone modem out of the datalogger box and replaced it with the RF401.  Since the distance from the station to the office is around 500 feet, we used a 0dB whip antenna on the station radio.

I went back to the office and initiated a remote desktop connection to the Loggernet computer in our office in Las Cruces.  Using Loggernet, I attempted communications with the Tucumcari station and had success.  With the radio system set up, we spent a few more hours at the station, making sure all the station's sensors were working properly.  Finally, after making sure that the office radio and network device were out of everyone's way, we made our way back to Las Cruces with a total trip time of 14 hours.

Since this trip, and because the system has been so stable, we've been planning the upgrade of our entire network to the radio systems.

Friday, March 8, 2013


Fall streaks occur in Cirrus clouds that make the clouds look as if someone pulled the bottom of the cloud down while the top looks solid.  This formation is caused by ice crystals that fall and eventually evaporated before hitting the ground.

I observed these fall streaks on Wednesday (March 6, 2013) while heading to school.

Wind direction and speed, as well as how fast the ice crystals fall will determine the shapes, sizes and how “wispy” these clouds will look.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Weather Station Radio Telemetry at Fabian Garcia

Our office has been operating a weather station at NMSU's Fabian Garcia Science Center for several decades.  Since its installation, we would collect data from the weather station via the telephone network.  The telephone communications served us well, but it became apparent that, in later years, all the experimental changes at the center were disrupting our ability to communicate reliably with the weather station.  The phone line would be accidentally cut and replaced, only to be cut again as another project trenched a nearby experimentation plot.  Something had to be done.

Several months ago I was experimenting with a Campbell Scientific NL200 and a pair of RF401 radios we were going to use at another NMSU science center, and on a lark, decided to try the system on the Fabian Garcia weather station.  While the radios are rated for line of sight communications over several miles, I was skeptical that this would even work.  The distance from the station to our office was around a mile.  Also, some evergreens and an Interstate highway was in the way.

I installed the system anyway, and to my surprise, it worked.  What was even more surprising is that the RF401 radios were using 0dB whip antennas.

My excitement soon evaporated as the system seemed to fail for no reason whatsoever.  The weather station would stop answering comm requests, so we would fiddle with the antennas or change the location of the office RF401 by a few millimeters and it would work again.  After a few days, it would stop working and we would repeat the same process.  Finally, one day we couldn't get it back no matter how much we played with the office RF401.

I took the system apart and checked each device to make sure the hardware was OK.  It was, so we decided that it had to be the antennas.  We bought a 900MHz 9dB yagi antenna for the weather station, and a 1dB dipole window mount antenna for our office. I enlisted the help of Ms. Elizabeth Smith, grad student extraordinaire, and we set a date for the re-installation of the sytem.

On February 6th, 2013, I reconnected the NL200 to the NMSU network, connected one of the RF401 radios to the NL200 and I mounted the 1dB office antenna in the window.  The pictures below show the communications equipment in the office and the new antenna taped to the window.  Because of the angle of the picture, we can't really "see" the trees and Intersate that obscure the Fabian Garcia SC.

Liz and I then went to the Fabian Garcia SC weather station to install the other RF401 and the new 9dB yagi antenna.  Everything went smoothly and after we mounted the antenna, we contacted Dr. Dave DuBois, NM State Climatologist, so that he could check the communications from the office.  It worked!  So now we have a weather station nearly a mile away communicating with our office via a radio system and a network connection.  The Fabian Garcia station joins a list of our other weather stations on RF/Network telemetry and continues our slow communications upgrade of our statewide monitoring network.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

If you are interested in collecting rain and snow observations for us read on! We are going to hold a training workshop for the volunteer Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow network (CoCoRaHS) in Santa Fe on January 17 at the Santa Fe County Extension Office at 3229 Rodeo Road. It will start at 7 pm and probably go to about 8:30pm. Anyone is welcome at the workshop. All you have to bring is an interest in collecting precipitation at your home.  If you are not in the Santa Fe area let us know since we would like to schedule other training opportunities in NM.

To learn more about the CoCoRaHS network visit their website at

Friday, January 4, 2013

Decent snow amounts across the southern NM desert were observed from this past storm. This time focus was on the lower elevations and over the Sacramento Mountains. It turned out that very little snow fell in the Gila.  Below is the snow water equivalent change map produced by the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center showing the extent of the snowfall over southern NM from this storm.
Peak snow depths in NM were found both in Las Cruces, Cloverdale, and in Cloudcroft. Four CoCoRaHS observers measured over 3 inches of snow in Las Cruces. Amounts up to 4 inches were observed in El Paso and Hudspeth Counties. Below is a snapshot of snow that accumulated on a leaf in my front yard. You can pick out individual dendritic flakes. The snow that fell at near my CoCoRaHS gauge had a 10:1 snow to water ratio. That's a pretty typical ratio.
For those of you who are CoCoRaHS participants, don't forget to take your funnel off when you expect snow to fall. This is important when we get a significant snow and will exceed the depth of the funnel top very quickly. If you are unsure of the procedures for measuring and reporting snow, please review the tutorials on how to measure snow. I've had to contact some observers and make some corrections today.  The national CoCoRaHS website has a good tutorial.  Today my gauge had about an inch of snow accumulating on the lip of the gauge and I used the swatter to settle it in the gauge. It is suggested to lightly push down on the pile on the rim. I gently tapped on it to let it fall naturally.
I think the most important thing is to have fun doing it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Let it snow, let it snow! It was nice to wake up to a dusting of snow this morning in Las Cruces. We started out with a few areas receiving snow or at least light snow. The snow fell as little wet "snow-balls" and not much as flakes in Las Cruces. I took this photo at 8:30am on my windshield.
By 8:45 am most of southern NM was covered in a cold and moist airmass.

The forecast from the NWS is showing nearly 4 inches in the lower elevations in west Texas. This map was extracted using the new National Digital Forecast Database webpage that I just found out about.