ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – You don’t have to look at the data to know it’s been hot in Albuquerque. But if you do dive into the data, you’ll see that July actually broke records for Albuquerque temperatures, and we can probably expect even more in the future due to climate change.

“Yes, we’ve seen temperatures even hotter than this before, but the extent and the days in a row that we are seeing those hot temperatures is not normal,” KRQE News 13 meteorologist Zoe Mintz says.

July of 2023 broke the record for the number of consecutive days with highs over 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It also broke the record for consecutive days with daily low temperatures that were above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, data from the Sunport shows. This year, there were consistently hot days and even the daily low temperatures have been high.

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Interactive: Compare average daily temperatures at the ABQ Sunport from the last 23 Julys.

“Normally, we only have – in Albuquerque – eight 70-degree-or-higher nights in July,” Mintz says. “This month, we had 23.”

Local highs driven by regional weather

Behind Albuquerque’s hot July was an interaction between warm ocean water and the massive air circulation patterns those warm waters produce. In particular, it’s the speed of the switch between relatively cool ocean temperatures in the Pacific (called La Niña) and relatively warm temperatures (La Niña), Mintz says.

“It’s the extent that the temperatures have warmed from La Niña, which is what we were in last winter,” Mintz says. “They have completely flipped from slightly below average to well above average in less than a year. And that is a very quick turnaround.”

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During July, sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific off the coast of South America warmed up, part of an El Niño event.

The shift to El Niño brings rising, warm air to the atmosphere over the equatorial Pacific. As that air circulates towards cooler regions in the atmosphere, it loses moisture, cools, and eventually falls back down to Earth bringing high pressure that keeps clouds and thunderstorms away.

Historically, that high pressure has fallen on Mexico, Mintz says. That means Albuquerque is usually able to enjoy monsoon rains. But recent research shows that climate change is shifting where that high pressure falls. In 2023, it fell on New Mexico and Texas, bringing record heat and blocking clouds. The larger phenomenon changing the circulation patterns is known by several names: shifting Hadley cells, expanding tropics, and tropical bloating.

It’s not just the southwest U.S. that is seeing the impacts of shifting circulation patterns. The effect is worldwide, and something researchers first noticed about two decades ago. If you’re looking for concrete examples of how climate change is likely to impact New Mexico in the future, this is it: Climate researchers expect increases in greenhouse gasses to shift tropical circulation towards the Earth’s poles, which can have big heat effects in New Mexico’s cities, as we’ve seen this year.

Things like El Niño and La Niña are cycles, they come and go, as do warm and cool temperatures in Albuquerque. But the shift in large-scale circulation patterns is different – it’s expected to keep shifting if humans keep impacting the environment.

“It’s something that is going to be the new normal,” Mintz warns. “Maybe people who have lived here for the past 30 years think this isn’t normal. But it’s going to be.”