Characterized by clear, cool nights and sunny, mild days, October can be an ideal month for outdoor events.  The thunderstorm season has waned and the jet stream is usually still situated to our north.  However, on rare occasions, remnants of land-falling tropical systems from the eastern Pacific or western Gulf of Mexico can bring surges of moisture into the state, particularly early in the month.  Also, weather systems moving far enough south through the Rocky Mountain region can and do bring strong winds, cooler than normal temperatures and widespread precipitation, including snow! Severe weather, while not common, can occur as it did in 2004.

Always check the latest NWS forecast for the Albuquerque Metro Area prior to attending an outdoor event.

A weather phenomenon known as the "Albuquerque Box" produces an atmospheric wind pattern that results in balloons remaining over the park during the morning hours. Read more about the Albuquerque Box below.

Temperature and Precipitation Facts For October 1-15  

The data listed below includes 40 years of minimum and maximum temperatures, precipitation days and percent of sunshine for the first fifteen days of October at the Albuquerque International Sunport. 

Note: Due its valley location, morning low temperatures at Balloon Fiesta Park can often be 5 to 10 degrees cooler than at the airport, while daytime maximum temperatures are usually 2 to 3 degrees warmer

  • Average minimum temperature at the airport: 48.1 degrees  (upper 30s to around 40 at Balloon Fiesta Park)
  • The coldest morning low recorded at the airport was 30 degrees in 1976, while the warmest morning temperature was 63 degrees in 2003.
  • Average maximum temperature at the airport: 74.5 degrees (mid to upper 70s at Balloon Fiesta Park)
  • The coolest afternoon high recorded at the airport was 38 degrees in 1986 and the warmest was 91 in 1979.
  • Average number of days in the first 15 days of October with precipitation (trace or more): 4 days (3.6)
  • Most number of days with precipitation (trace or more): 9 days (in 2005), 8 days (in 1974 and 2000), 7 days (in 1986, 2003 and 2004)
  • 1974, 1984, 1986, 1997, 2000, 2005 and 2006 were particularly wet years for the Balloon Fiesta.  In 2006, 1.47 inches of rain was recorded at the Albuquerque Sunport on October 9. It was the third consecutive day of rain, leaving the metro area quite wet. Meanwhile only a trace of rain was reported on three separate occasions: 2012, 2002, and 1995. 
  • Snow, although rare, has been reported during the balloon fiesta. Snow fell on October 12th in both 1986 (3.2 inches) and 1997 (trace).

October 4-5, 2004 was especially memorable along the Middle Rio Grande Valley, including the Albuquerque Metro Area, as numerous severe thunderstorms struck the region between 1000 pm and 100 am and again on the afternoon of the 5th.  One of the more damaging storms hit northwest Albuquerque and Rio Rancho at 12:30 am on the 5th.  Paradise Hills was especially hard hit with significant hail accumulation and damage.

 

Temperature Extremes, Precipitation & Sunshine Data For October 1-15

Year

Coolest Morning Low
Warmest Morning Low
Coolest Afternoon High
Warmest Afternoon High
# of days with precip. (T or >)

% of possible sunshine

1974
41
56
59
80
8
60
1975
34
48
66
83
0
100
1976
30
59
60
81
2
80
1977
38
60
63
82
2
75
1978
38
57
67
89
1
95
1979
38
58
78
91
1
89
1980
38
55
64
90
3
94
1981
43
56
65
76
4
61
1982
31
51
58
83
2
87
1983
42
54
65
78
4
74
1984
34
54
47
78
6
56
1985
40
54
63
81
6
67
1986
31
51
38
80
7
62
1987
44
54
69
85
2
90
1988
43
54
67
81
5
78
1989
45
58
55
85
4
65
  1990 
36
56
61
80
2
89
1991
42
54
75
86
0
96
1992
35
53
69
84
0
94
1993
43
52
69
87
4
84
1994
41
57
62
85
4
74
1995
40 53 65 82 0 98
1996 50 56 60 83 3 85
1997 35 59 67 85 5 88
1998 36 59 55 83 1 89
1999 43 57 62 83 2 90
2000 38 57 42 89 8 61
2001 33 58 62 83 5 84
2002 42 58 62 80 2 91
2003 45 63 66 82 7 66
2004 34 56 61 77 7 88
2005 43 62 59 81 9 72
2006 43 61 62 82 5 73
2007 40 56 64 83 3 90
2008 46 60 58 79 3 93
2009 42 57 62 81 3 61
2010 49 63 72 86 5 40
2011 38 57 59 81 5 60
2012 40 58 65 87 0 70
2013 38 52 62 83 1 85
Average 39.6o 56.3o 62.0o 82.9o 3.6 days 78.9%
   
Weather Patterns Associated with the "Albuquerque Box" 
   
The Albuquerque box is essentially a valley wind pattern which develops under certain "stable" conditions. During the nighttime hours, the air near the ground is cooled by the process of radiational cooling.  This process is most efficient with clear skies, low humidity and light wind. Cooler, and therefore more dense, air flows downslope and pools at lower elevations such as along arroyos and river valleys - as depicted in by the white arrows in the figure below. The cool air that pools in the Rio Grande valley is shallow (generally no more than a few hundred feet in depth). During the early morning hours this "drainage wind" flows from north to south down the valley from higher to lower elevations much like any fluid flows downhill. In much of the Albuquerque metro area, including the balloon park, a north wind around 10 mph or less can result.
 
   
Above the surface, the flow of the air is controlled by synoptic patterns in the atmosphere.  The figure to the right depicts the 700 millibar heights, or pressure pattern around 5000 feet above the surface, on October 5th, 2002.  High pressure over the southeast states has resulted in a weak southerly flow over central New Mexico.
 

 

The stable "river of air" or drainage wind described above occurs below a temperature inversion which separates it from warmer, less dense air above the inversion, just as vinegar is separated from oil by differences in density.  The wind direction in the airmass above the shallow inversion can be different than that below the inversion.  In an "ideal" box pattern, the wind blows in exactly the opposite direction, with a north wind at the surface (blue arrow) and a south wind above the surface (red arrow), as shown in the figure to the right.  A skillful pilot can bring a balloon back to near the point of takeoff by changing altitudes to ride wind currents in different directions. Upon takeoff the pilot first heads south toward downtown, then ascends higher where the winds will take the balloon back north toward the balloon fiesta grounds.

   
 
The photo to the right, taken during the 2007 Balloon Fiesta, nicely depicts the low level drainage winds. The photo was taken to the west, and the flags at the north end of Balloon Fiesta Park indicate a north to south wind. On this day, winds aloft were out of the south AND southwest. A video (looking to the southwest) illustrates the effect of the Albuquerque Box on the motion of the balloons, with the balloons moving north to south near the surface and in the opposite direction, or south to north, aloft. (Photo and video by J. Wachter)
   

This wind pattern for which the Albuquerque area is well known occurs under stable conditions during the fall season when no strong weather systems are affecting the area. A local study found that on average the "box" circulation occurs about 3 days out of the first 15 days of October. A more recent check of the past 10 years found that the "box" occurs on average about twice between October 5th and 15th. Even on days when the "box" occurs, it dissipates by mid morning as the sun heats the ground, resulting in thermal turbulence which mixes the lower layers of air and eliminates the low level inversion.

 
Wind roses can help to illustrate the difference in wind patterns from morning to afternoon. The wind roses below depict the frequency and speed of the wind from 12 compass directions. It is important to note that they represent wind measured at the Albuquerque Sunport, not at the Balloon Fiesta Park. 
   
This wind rose depicts the distribution of the wind in October 1985 through 2005, during the early to mid morning hours (900am to 1100am MDT). This wind rose illustrates the persistence of the nocturnal drainage wind in the Rio Grande Valley. Cooler surface air becomes more dense and flows downvalley. While this graphic represents the wind data from the Albuquerque Sunport, the wind at the balloon fiesta grounds is similar though the drainage wind is likely stronger, due to the lower elevation and proximity to the Rio Grande.
 
 

This wind rose is also for October, but represents the afternoon hours 100pm through 500 pm MDT. By afternoon, the drainage wind is gone, having been mixed out. The winds tend to become more southwesterly, and usually have higher speeds than the north drainage wind.

Both wind roses illustrate that while winds from the east do not occur frequently during the morning or afternoon, when they do occur the wind speeds are generally strong, often reaching speeds greater than 20 knots.

 


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