NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Unless you experienced the recent snow in the mountains or the eastern portion of the state, you might think New Mexico has had a dry winter. But data reveals that the state is actually much wetter than this time last year.
To be clear, much of the state is still “abnormally dry” or in drought. However, as of Jan. 18, only a few counties have “extreme drought” conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, indicating 2023, so far, is wetter than last year for much of the state. And that could impact the 2023 fire season.
“The western half of New Mexico and the northern mountains have been doing well when it comes to precipitation this winter,” says KRQE News 13 Chief Meteorologist Grant Tosterud. “The amount of water in the snowpack across these parts of the state is hovering near to above average for this time of year.”
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The maps from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that how current conditions compare to January of last year. | The U.S. Drought Monitor is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC.
Still, the eastern edge of the state has lacked precipitation. Several counties near the New Mexico-Texas border are drier than they were this time last year. Still, statewide snowpack is better than last year, Tosterud says.
So what does all of this mean for fire season this year? Tosterud says that while winter moisture can help, there are some worrying factors that could impact the 2023 fire season.
“While a good snowpack can delay the start of fire season, for some areas there is still a long way to go to make up for the deficit seen across the state when it comes to moisture,” Tosterud says. “We had a lot of rain in parts of the state during last year’s monsoon, which contributed to low growth like grasses. That then dries out over the winter and into this spring, and that could be a problem heading into fire season.”
The good news is that there’s still time for the winter snowpack to grow. “We are still several weeks out from peak snowpack across northern New Mexico,” Tosterud explains. “Snow water equivalent [the amount of water held in the snowpack] usually peaks in March across northern New Mexico before the snow really begins to melt heading into spring.”
Of course, the opposite could happen as well. We could end up drier than usual before spring. “There’s still some time in winter yet to keep the snowpack above average, or if we see a drying pattern, we could still end the season lower than normal,” Tosterud says.