New Mexico marks year of weather extremes

Unprecedented drought, record rain and hail all hit New Mexico in 2013

Associated Press
New Mexico marks year of weather extremes

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FILE - In this Sept. 13, 2013 file photo, La Union resident George Enriquez, left, and Pablo Romero of Las Cruces, N.M. survey the damage along Sentenario Street in La Union, N.M. where Thursday's massive flooding destroyed multiple roads in the small town, Friday, Sept. 13, 2013. Previously drought-stricken rivers surged their banks across New Mexico on Friday, closing roads, stranding children at schools and forcing evacuation from Las Vegas to Truth or Consequences from "life-threatening" floods. (AP Photo/The Las Cruces Sun-News, Shari Vialpando-Hill, File) MANDATORY CREDIT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- It seemed there was no end in sight after three years without any meaningful snow or summer rain. In 2013, New Mexico's drought had become what climate experts and water managers were calling unprecedented.

A summer heat wave made things worse as the state's reservoirs were reduced to mucky messes, and stretches of the Rio Grande and Pecos rivers went dry.

But summing up New Mexico's weather this year is not that simple. There was also record rainfall, flash flooding, historic wind gusts and a severe hail storm that put snow plows to work during the first week of July.

"We end the year with near normal temperatures and near normal precipitation, but the fluctuations during the year were anything but near normal," said Deirdre Kann, the science and operations officer for the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.

Meteorologist Kerry Jones had his own description.

"If you had to sum it up, it would just be the switch from the extreme drought to wet," he said. "It's always a collection of extremes, and this year was magnified."

Jones spent part of his Christmas shift crunching numbers. He found that about a dozen days of moisture in July and September accounted for nearly three-quarters of Albuquerque's total rainfall this year.

Had it not been for those rainy days, Albuquerque would be in trouble. For the first six months of the year, the city had only 0.70 inches of rain, making for the second driest start of the year since 1931.

In eastern New Mexico, Clayton and Roswell are still about 3 inches behind, and forecasters say the odds of them catching up before the end of the year are slim.

The latest map shows nearly a third of New Mexico in the grip of severe drought or worse. At this time last year, more than 90 percent of the state was dealing with the worst categories of drought.

In addition to causing problems for farmers and ranchers, the drought combined with aging infrastructure and a lack of maintenance to leave some small communities without drinking water. State officials started to take notice.

A legislative audit released in November said New Mexico needs to establish a long-term capital improvement plan for addressing water infrastructure needs. Gov. Susana Martinez has proposed that about $112 million, or 60 percent of next year's available capital improvement financing, be earmarked for water projects.

Eastern New Mexico started out 2013 with a nasty blizzard, which forced the closure of nearly every major highway in the region. Snow drifts were 5 feet tall along the Texas-New Mexico border and strong winds made for whiteout conditions.

In late June, record-breaking heat descended upon New Mexico. Socorro and Tucumcari topped out at 109, while mountain enclaves such as Taos and Chama neared triple digits on June 27.

Less than a week later, snow plows were called out in Santa Rosa after a storm dumped as much as 2 feet of hail. Residents described it as Christmas in July. With some hailstones the size of golf balls, roof damage and broken skylights were widespread.

At the end of July a series of thunderstorms moved through central New Mexico, bringing winds that topped 89 mph. Uprooted trees and broken branches resulted in power outages across Albuquerque, while a stretch of Interstate 25 was closed for nearly 12 hours and some motorists were stranded in several feet of water.

Torrential downpours followed. Parts of southeastern New Mexico saw storms in August that dumped a few inches of rain in just 24 hours. The next month, the state recorded its second wettest September as historic amounts of rain fell.

Rivers swelled, some lakes were replenished, roads and bridges were damaged and homes were flooded. President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration the following month for 22 counties and a few tribes.

Cleanup and repair costs are estimated at $140 million, but state emergency management officials say those estimates could go up. Friday is the last day for state agencies, local governments and tribes to file claims.


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