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).