Significant Weather Events of 2012 for Northern and Central New Mexico

This feature briefly describes significant weather and climate events of 2012 for northern and central New Mexico.  More complete details on temperature and precipitation, the drought, fire weather and severe weather can be found in our 2012 annual summary, which will be posted on January 1, 2013.

2012: Record High Temperatures

The big news this year has been above average temperatures, month after month.  The cumulative result is that 2012 will go down as the warmest year on record. Through November 2012, the average for the state was the highest observed and was yet another year that supported the upward trend in temperature.  At each of our three climate stations, the average temperature through December 25, 2012 was the warmest on record, as shown in the table and graphic below.

  Long-term Average Temperature through 12/25 Average 2012 Temperature through 12/25
Albuquerque 57.4 60.4
Clayton 53.8 58.3
Roswell 61.0 64.4

 Widespread Drought

Through November 2012, the average precipitation for New Mexico was near the record lowest value, ranking as the second driest since 1895.  Severe to exceptional drought continued across New Mexico in 2012.  While all sections of the state were affected, conditions are particularly severe in eastern New Mexico.  The plot below shows a time series of the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) since 1895 for eastern New Mexico.  The current drought the most severe drought since the 1950s and while it is currently of shorter duration than the 1950s drought, it has exceeded the severity observed during the 1950s.  New Mexico was not the only area affected.  My mid summer, drought conditions affected much of the country and the United States Department of Agriculture declared natural disaster areas in more than 1,000 counties and 26 drought-stricken states, making it the largest natural disaster (in terms of area) in America ever.

 Historic Wildfires

2012 was the second consecutive year during which record-breaking wildfires burned across northern and central New Mexico. The Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire was started by lightning on May 9, 2012 in the Gila Wilderness of Catron County.  By July 23, the fire had burned more than 297,845 acres, which easily surpassed the area burned by Las Conchas Fire of 2011, thus making it the largest wildfire in New Mexico state history.

The Little Bear Fire was also started by a lightning strike in Lincoln County on June 4, 2012.  It burned 44,330 acres and 254 buildings after quickly growing out of control due to dry, windy conditions.

The burn scars of both of these fires are shown on the map at the top of the page (shaded in red).  Burn scars are associated with extreme flash flooding due to excessive debris and ash, as well as the burned surface's inability to absorb precipitation.

The Whitewater-Baldy Complex on May 22, 2012.  Photo by David Thornburg.

Flash Flooding
The 2012 monsoon season developed a little ahead of schedule with an initial moisture surge impacting parts of the state on June 22nd when a strong back door cold front, which often precedes a classic monsoon pattern, delivered moisture to eastern New Mexico June 20-21.  Following the monsoon onset, four well-defined monsoon burst periods were documented between July 12 and September 15. The figure below depicts the count of flash flood warnings (dark green), flood advisories (light green) and severe thunderstorm warnings (orange) during the monsoon season.
Flash floods are most common during the monsoon season, and, as anticipated, burn scars saw several flash flood events. The first floods of the season affected the Little Bear burn scar on June 22nd and July 5th, with additional flash flooding on September 6th. On July 16th, localized flash flooding resulted in damage at Bandelier National Monument and neighboring locations on the Las Conchas burn scar. The Los Conchas burn scar was also responsible for damaging flash floods in Santa Clara Pueblo on July 9th, August 18th and August 22nd.  The Whitewater-Baldy burn scar finally saw damaging flooding late in the season on August 26th.  However, monsoon rain produced flooding in other areas of northern and central New Mexico.  The area in and near the community of Thoreau experienced devastating flooding from a single thunderstorm on August 5th that produced an estimated 3-5 inches of rain in less than 2 hours, though some radar estimates were even higher.  On August 16th, heavy rain resulted in flash flooding in Sandoval County/Kewa Pueblo, and closed service of the Rail Runner Trains for a day.
Tornadoes in Complex Terrain
The eastern plains of New Mexico make up the western extent of "tornado alley" and a majority of New Mexico tornadoes develop and track east of the central mountains.  In 2012, two tornadoes developed in areas of complex terrain.  On May 13, 2012 a tornado was observed near Magdalena.  Much later in the year, on October 12, 2012, a tornado near Pecos snapped several large ponderosa pine trees and damaged a cabin under construction.   In addition to the tornado, severe weather on October 12th resulted in the deepest accumulation of hail observed in Los Alamos in decades.
Long Track Supercell Thunderstorm
On June 12, 2012, a supercell thunderstorm persisted for 5 hours and tracked nearly 100 miles from House to Melrose and areas near Floyd and Dora (red line on map).  This severe thunderstorm damaged over 90 percent of the homes and businesses in Melrose, and hail greater than 4 inches in diameter was observed.  This is only the 9th time in New Mexico history that hail this large was observed. In addition, two weak tornadoes were produced by this supercell. is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.