ALBUQUERQUE — The streak is over, and New Mexico residents are rejoicing.
A small amount of rain fell over the state’s largest metropolitan area Wednesday, ending one of the longest dry spells in recorded history. Albuquerque had logged more than three straight months without any measureable precipitation — a stretch that threatened to break records that had been set decades ago.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque summed up the excitement about the end of the streak via social media.
“While dry conditions persist over NM, today’s storm system has ended ABQ’s 96 day stretch of no measurable precipitation, hallelujah!” the tweet read.
So just how much rain was measured Wednesday morning? Only three-hundredths of an inch, or less than one millimeter.
The recent dry spell marked the fifth longest on record, according to the weather service. The record of 109 days was set in 1902.
While the moisture is welcomed, water managers and environmentalists are most concerned about snowpack levels in the mountains along the New Mexico-Colorado border that feed the Rio Grande basin.
A recent forecast issued by the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows Rio Grande flows at various spots in Northern New Mexico could range from 15 percent to 24 percent of average this year. It’s early in the winter season, but it still marks a dry start to things.
The most recent federal map that tracks drought shows much of the American Southwest is dealing with conditions that include moderate to severe drought. Every square mile of neighboring Arizona is affected, while it’s dry across New Mexico but for a sliver of its southeastern border with Texas.
Jen Pelz with the group WildEarth Guardians said it appears from January’s stream-flow forecast that 2018 could be similar to the lean years earlier in the decade where the Rio Grande’s flows were less than half of average.
“We are in unprecedented territory that will require water managers think outside the box and figure out how to meet demands while keeping the ecosystem whole,” she said.
A plan adopted by federal wildlife managers in 2016 calls for various conservation measures to ensure river flows can sustain endangered species.
New Mexico is also battling with Texas before the U.S. Supreme Court over management of the Rio Grande on the southern end of the state. It could be years before the case is resolved, but communities and farmers are worried about their ability in the future to pump groundwater to supplement supplies in dry years.
A delegation of leaders from Las Cruces traveled to Washington, D.C., this week for a hearing on whether the federal government should be allowed to intervene in the case. A decision is expected in the coming months.
“We know a lot is at stake concerning the use of groundwater in our part of the state,” said Mayor Ken Miyagishima. “It is critical that we represented the city of Las Cruces’ interests during this historic discussion of the future of our water rights as a community.”
In the Albuquerque area, residents didn’t mind walking in the rain, and some car salesmen were thankful for the moisture even though it put a damper on morning sales.