You don’t need a weather expert to tell you it was a dry summer in Northern New Mexico.
Meteorologists say we’re in for an arid autumn and winter, too.
“It’s not looking good,” said Daniel Porter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.
While long-term climate changes play a role in the forecast, the main culprit is the La Niña pattern — a climate phenomenon of colder-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean that combine with an abnormally high air pressure system. That creates a drying trend in the Southwest because the system pushes any east-moving storm track north of New Mexico, Porter said.
“And that tilts the odds toward a lower possibility of storms moving into New Mexico,” he added.
La Niña produces the opposite effects of its counterpart, El Niño, which happens when warmer-than-usual sea temperatures and lower air pressure in the eastern tropical Pacific push moisture into the Southwest.
Meteorologist Scott Overpeck said it’s not unusual for La Niña and El Niño to take about 24 months to develop, peak and then transition back to neutral. As such, he said, those systems should occur every three to five years.
Last year wasn’t a bad one for snow in the Santa Fe area. From September 2019 through May 2020, the region received over 26 inches — with more than 11 inches in November alone.
Overpeck said it’s still too far out to tell what kind of winter the region will have. But he expects less snowfall.
“All it takes one big snow in one big storm to rack up our totals of snow,” he said. “But then you may not get any more snow the rest of the year. That’s the tricky part when we are talking about what to expect with precipitation.”
The question, he said, is how much lower than normal autumn and winter precipitation will be.
During a Monday teleconference on the autumn outlook, Overpeck said the fall theme is “dry as a bone.”
Though there is the chance for a backdoor cold front or two moving through the region in the next week, neither is expected to bring rain. Rather, they will bring just “another round of gusty winds,” he said.
Though some parts of the state got a touch of precipitation last week — just over a half-inch in Raton— there was little rain this summer. National Weather Service precipitation totals for May through September show the Santa Fe area got less than 2½ inches of rain. It normally gets at least 8 inches.
The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor map, released Sept. 24, shows nearly the entire state enveloped in moderate to extreme drought conditions.
And despite the short cold front that moved into the area early Monday, temperatures will rev back up into the high 70s and low 80s for most of the rest of the week starting Wednesday, according to the weather service.
But Porter said New Mexicans should still prepare for winter.
“Just because we say below normal precipitation doesn’t mean we won’t get storms or cold blasts,” he said. “Our snowiest period is usually in the Christmas-to-New-Year’s-Day period, so maybe that will be our saving grace.”