ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Weather forecasters and water managers had little good news to share Thursday about the prospects of Mother Nature helping New Mexico overcome a year of drought.
Members of New Mexico's Drought Monitoring Workgroup met in Albuquerque to talk about the lack of moisture over the past eight months and projections for fall and early winter.
"We're well on track for this being the driest year ever in New Mexico," Ed Polasko, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, told the group.
Polasko's grim statement followed his listing of dozens of communities around New Mexico that have fallen inches behind in their precipitation.
Some of the biggest precipitation deficits are along the Middle and Lower Rio Grande, but he also pointed to Carlsbad and Tatum in southeastern New Mexico, which have missed out on anywhere from six to 10 inches of their normal annual precipitation. Alcalde, Cloudcroft, Glenwood, Las Cruces and Deming are also behind.
Nearly every corner of New Mexico has been affected by drought this year, and the conditions are so bad that about two-thirds of the state have been classified as extreme and exceptional — the two worst levels of drought.
This summer was one of the driest on record and that helped compound a problem that has been brewing since last fall and winter, when storms brought little more than freezing temperatures to New Mexico.
The La Nina weather pattern that repelled moisture from much of the state was to blame. The bad news is that La Nina seems to be rearing its head once more, Polasko said.
New Mexico has also just wrapped up one of its hottest summers ever. This summer ranks just slightly behind the summer of 1980, which was filled with numerous triple-digit days.
"Here we are 30 years later and we're having one of the hottest summers ever and one of the driest," Polasko said. "Things go in cycles and it just happens to be our turn in the dry and very warm cycle."
From farmers along the Pecos River to ranchers in central New Mexico, months without any measureable rain have been difficult to bear. Farmers have been forced to pump groundwater to supplement this year's minuscule irrigation allotments, while ranchers have been trying to decide between selling off their herds or paying higher prices for feed.
In Albuquerque, residents rejoiced this summer when afternoon clouds would yield even a few raindrops.
With the combination of relentless heat and drought, members of the work group said this summer felt as if it would never end.
Thursday was the last day of the season, but the experts said New Mexico can expect more hot and dry weather.
Polasko described the outlook for rain and snow from October to December as "particularly distressing," as models predict storms tracking way to the west and north of New Mexico.
Forecasts show a 40 percent probability of below-normal precipitation for parts of the state, which is consistent with the return of the La Nina weather pattern.
As for temperatures, there's as much as a 50 percent probability that New Mexico will see above-normal temperatures through at least the end of the year.
"Nobody is really putting much stock in the fact that El Nino will return. That's been pretty much washed off the charts," Polasko said.
Raymond Abeyta, a hydrology technician with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in New Mexico, reviewed with the group water storage levels in reservoirs around the state.
While the Rio Grande is far below normal, he said things are worse along the Pecos River.
"If those models prove true, we're going to be in a heap of trouble next year," he said.
September has seen some scattered rainfall around New Mexico, but New Mexico Department of Agriculture range resources specialist Les Owen said it's too little too late for production of any grass on New Mexico's rangelands.
He said ranchers are paying $100 more per ton this year for feed and placement of cattle in feedlots in the Panhandle and Midwest this summer have been the highest on record because of the dry conditions plaguing New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.
"The impacts on the ranching community are continuing to mount," Owen said, adding that rural counties that depend on taxes derived from ranching operations will also soon feel the hit.