NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The snowpack continues to melt as warmer spring temperatures arrive in New Mexico. It has already caused flooding along the Jemez River, and now experts are warning people about the conditions to expect if they venture out to hike, hunt, or explore.
“We had quite a bit of snow up in the mountains ready to go. What happened last week with the Jemez is that we also then had a couple of days of remarkably warm temperatures. Temperatures getting up into the 70s and that caused really rapid melt at the lower and mid elevations,” said Andrew Mangham, senior services hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. Mangham says the snow melt from the above-average snowfall this year is causing rivers across the state to swell.
“We saw the Pecos River go up quite high. We had reports of heavy flows coming out of the Mora headwaters in the mountains. And so, we were seeing this effect of really rapidly warming temperatures causing a really rapid rise in most of the streams and creeks and bringing that snow level down,” said Mangham.
Mangham says since last week’s spike temperatures have cooled, slowing the flow. But, he says the situation could last a few more weeks. “There’s still about seven inches of water left in most of the mountains which is really a pretty good amount of water left to come down out of the mountains and cause some problems.
So, what does this mean for people wanting to explore? Mangham says it means mud, and maybe some flooding.
“It’s going to be a lot of high water but there is a concern for some flash flooding if it reached, for several days stayed up in the 80s in the mountains then you’re going to be seeing rapid snowmelt that could lead to flash flooding,” Mangham said.
He says to expect streams to be running deep and fast—and not to mention cold, between 35 and 40 degrees—and, these wilderness areas might look different than what people are used to.
“If you fall in there, that can cause an immediate shock effect that will make you hyperventilate, possibly drown. You will also lose muscle control within minutes if you are in that water so please exercise extreme caution around rapidly flowing water during snowmelt season,” Mangham said.
“We haven’t seen snows like this for maybe 5, 6 years in this state. And so, we are going to be seeing flows that we haven’t seen in quite a while in some of these rivers. So, people who are used to seeing rivers kind of low and think ‘that’s what it should look like,’ are going to be caught off-guard when they go by their streams and their creeks and not be prepared for what they’re seeing,” Mangham said.