A storm forecasted for Northern New Mexico this weekend is causing concerns about potential flooding in the Rio en Medio burn area in the Santa Fe National Forest.
“We are seeing favorable conditions for thunderstorm activity and heavy rainfall,” said Scott Overpeck, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. “Flash flooding is a particular concern on wildfire burn scars because when water hits those burn areas, it completely runs off and brings debris with it.”
Steve Vrooman of Keystone Restoration Ecology has been working to restore the Rio en Medio stream and wetlands after the Medio Fire burned some 4,000 acres of forest last summer. Heavy flooding could be damaging to the area’s ecology, Vrooman said.
“We saw one of those [floods] this spring,” Vrooman said.
The runoff carried large amounts of toxic ash into the Rio en Medio stream. “It moved a lot of ash. There was considerable fishkill,” Vrooman said.
Another flood could potentially swell the 8-foot wide Rio en Medio to 20 or 25 feet wide and lead to property damage downstream, he said.
Post-fire hazards have led to the closure of the popular Rio en Medio Trail No. 163 since 2020.
“We know that locations downstream from burned areas are very susceptible to flash flooding and debris flow under monsoon conditions,” said Julie Anne Overton, a spokeswoman for the Santa Fe National Forest. “The Medio Fire burned in steep terrain, and even moderate rainfall that might normally be absorbed into unburned soil can turn into a flash flood pretty quickly under post-fire conditions.”
The agency said it would reassess the closure order after the monsoon season is over.
In Santa Fe, there is a
60 percent chance of precipitation Saturday afternoon, increasing to 80 percent Sunday, then dropping to 70 percent Monday, Overpeck said.
The storm could impact both the Rio en Medio and Ute Park burn scars. The Ute Park Fire burned over 35,000 acres in the mountains between Cimarron and Eagles Nest in 2018.
“You have no water soaking in the ground,” Overpeck said of the potential for high volumes of runoff that could lead to “flash floods” in the burn areas as well as a “potential road closure” in the flood path.
Vrooman hopes the rain forecasted this weekend won’t be too severe. “Every rainstorm that doesn’t flood is a good one,” he said.
The Rio en Medio burn scar has seen a recent emergence of mushrooms, wildflowers and aspen root sprouts coming up from the charred soil.
“It’s coming back,” Vrooman said. “The whole place was a blackened moonscape in March.”