NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – KRQE’s 2021 Winter Weather Special provides analysis and insight into what this winter will look like for New Mexico. It examines the impacts of what another La Niña could mean for the state, what other climate patterns affect the state during this time of year, and the impact climate change has on the forests and fire season in the state.
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Last winter, La Niña resulted in below-average precipitation for most and warmer than average temperatures all across the state. For the second year in a row, La Niña has once again developed. Cooler than average sea surface temperatures along the equatorial pacific usually means a warmer and drier winter for New Mexico. This winter’s double-dip La Niña looks to be slightly weaker than the last year, peaking in December and slowly trending closer to average into the new year.
With a weaker La Niña forecast this winter, it is likely that other climate modes will have a bigger impact on the winter in New Mexico.
Another climate model we use to watch how active the weather will be in New Mexico is the Madden-Julien Oscillation. This is a complex of storms that circles the globe along the equator, but we specifically watch where the storms are along the equatorial Pacific Ocean. High pressure off the west coast of the United States has kept the storm track well north of New Mexico this fall. However, during phases of the Madden-Julien Oscillation when storms are in the eastern Pacific, this pushes out that area of high pressure, drawing the storm track south, and bringing more active weather to New Mexico. This cycle usually runs every 30-60 days and will be one thing to watch this winter for more active weather in the state.
KRQE meteorologists sit down with experts on New Mexico’s forests and how climate change is impacting the state during the winter. Winter in New Mexico has been getting warmer and drier over the past 30+ years due to climate change, reducing snowpack across the mountains and also melting the snowpack faster than in previous years.
Dennis Carrill, Fuels Program Manager with the USDA Forest Service, says that without a decent snowpack and decent moisture this winter, it could be a rough fire season going into next spring. The monsoon this year brought rains to grow a lot of grass in parts of the state, and without sufficient moisture this winter, that dried grass could serve as dangerous fire fuels going into the next fire season.
Our fire season in New Mexico has increased by 70 days due to a warmer and drier climate, according to Dr. Matthew Hurteau, professor for the Department of Biology at the University of New Mexico. Dr. Hurteau says this will continue to be a trend in the coming decades as the climate continues to warm.
Due to a double-dip La Niña this winter and a weak Madden-Julien Oscillation, this winter’s forecast is very similar to what we experienced during the winter of 2020-2021. For the first half of the winter (November and December) warmer than average temperatures will continue across the state. There are likely to be closer to average temperatures across the eastern half of New Mexico thanks to backdoor cold fronts that will help to regulate those temperatures. Precipitation will continue to trend below average statewide.
Some change begins to happen during the first couple of months of the new year. Temperatures will continue to stay above average all across the state, but as La Niña begins to weaken, this will allow the storm track to trend slightly farther south by late January into February. This will bring better chances for snow and rain to southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
While the KRQE forecast calls for above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation across the state this winter, rounds of extreme weather will still be possible. This means very warm or very cold days and a storm or two that will bring heavy snow to the mountains or lower elevations.