Monthly Review of Weather Events Across New Mexico in 2012

Jan | Feb | Mar | Apr | May | Jun | Jul | Aug | Sep | Oct | Nov | Dec

Click on a highlighted month below for a more detailed review

The first week of January was dry with mostly above normal temperatures. A slow moving storm brought colder and more unsettled weather on the 8th through the 9th with widespread, but mostly light snow. Two weak upper level disturbances brought little snow but more cold weather on the 11th and 13th. The 1st significant storm of the month delivered wind, rain and snow late on the 15th through early on the 17th. After another nice break from the 18th into the 21st, a fast-moving storm brought strong winds and some snow from late on the 21st into the 22nd. Another storm quickly followed late on the 23rd through the 24th, but with less wind and not much snow. The last week of the month was mostly dry and seasonable.

 

 

January 1 in Tijeras - photo courtesy Chris Sholtis

 

 

The first storm of the month delivered widespread snow to Northern New Mexico on the 2nd and 3rd,, mainly north of I-40. Amounts were mostly near or under six inches, although the ski areas received up to a foot and a half. Dry and cool weather was the rule from the 4th through 8th before the second disturbance brought some rain and snow to Northern and Central New Mexico on the 9th. An active period of weather followed through the 21st. Light to moderate snow fell from a storm on the 12th. Moderate to heavy snow, rain, strong winds and thunderstorms impacted the Land of Enchantment on Valentine's Day and night (14th into the 15th). A weaker disturbance crossed the state on the 17th with light snow across the Southwest and South Central Mountains. A couple of more vigorous systems impacted mainly northern New Mexico on the 19th and 20th. More wind on the 22nd and 23rd, then a break from the wind emerged for a few days, only to have widespread strong winds on the 28th.

February 15 Albuquerque Heights - photo courtesy Ed Polasko

 

  March

March began like a lion with high winds and some snow across New Mexico. The snow was confined to the northern high terrain while the strongest winds were across central and southern areas of the state on the 1st and 2nd. The winds eased and temperatures climbed upward on the 3rd through 5th as high pressure was in control. But the wind machine kicked back in on the 6th and 7th over most of the state. High, damaging winds poured into portions of the Rio Grande Valley early on the 8th as a cold front breached the passes of the central mountain chain. A slow moving storm, that actually made a loop around southern New Mexico, plagued the state from the 8th into the 11th. Much warmer and drier weather was the story from the 12th through 17th. The winds increased on the 17th and were even stronger on the 18th as a powerful storm approached New Mexico. Widespread wind damage was reported around Albuquerque on the 18th. This system delivered much cooler and wetter conditions for many areas from the 18th into the 20th. The pesky storm kept light precipitation going on the 21st. Dry and warmer weather followed for the 22nd through 25th, although some dry thunderstorms formed late on the 25th. Gusty winds on the 26th settled down for the rest of the month, while temperatures were well above normal and precipitation lacking. In fact, record highs were broken at numerous locations over the last week of the month, as march exited like a lamb.

 

 

 
            March 1 in San Jon - photo courtesy Gerald White
 

 

 

April began with the wind not fooling around as strong wind gusts pelted New Mexico. This was due to a potent storm system approaching from the west. It slowly crossed New Mexico on the 2nd into the 3rd with much needed moisture for most of the state. Snow blanketed much of the higher terrain of northern and central New Mexico, although even the Upper and Middle Rio Grande Valley had a few inches of wet, slushy snow. Rain fell as well on the valleys and eastern plains. A warming and drying trend began on the 4th with above normal temperatures returning by the 6th and continued for the most part through the 13th. Mid level moisture began moving into New Mexico from the south on the 8th and 9th, leading to some dry storms over the west. Isolated storms turned severe over the northeast on the 10th and 11th. Colder and unsettled weather impacted the state on the 14th and 15th. High winds caused some damage on the 14th while snow fell over the western and northern high terrain on both days. An extensive period of mostly dry and warmer weather followed from the 16th through 25th with numerous record high temperatures. High winds returned on the 26th along with some showers and thunderstorms. Temperatures cooled some on the 27th and 28th. Thunderstorms impacted the Eastern Plains on the 29th, while the 30th was mostly dry and warm.
 April 3 in Edgewood - photo courtesy Benny Blacklock  

May

May began warm and dry through the first 5 days of the month. A strong back door cold front and potent, slow-moving storm to the west brought plenty of moisture into the state, starting in the northeast on the 6th and spreading south and west on the 7th. Welcome rain showers covered portions of the state from the 8th through 14th, favoring the parched southeast on many of these days. Dry and warmer weather returned from the 15th through 18th. The 18th was windy, aided by some virga bombs over the western and central portions of the state. Cooler weather was noted on the 19th and 20th, while the 21st warmed up again. Severe storms fired on the 21st as well mainly over the eastern half of the state. The 22nd through 26th was dry and very warm with windy conditions and critical to extreme fire weather conditions. Smoke from the Whitewater-Baldy Fire Complex and blowing dust were prevalent during this time. The winds quieted down through the end of the month while temperatures were mostly near to above normal. The only precipitation during the last few days of the month was in the east on the 31st, with a couple reports of large hail.


 

 


May 8 near Las Cruces - photo courtesy Patrick Lamb 

 June

 

 

June began active with large hail and damaging winds across Quay County on the 2nd. Large hail then struck Curry County on the 4th. A lone thunderstorm dropped nickel size hail near Las Vegas on the 5th and high winds to Raton on the 6th. Mostly dry and hot weather was the case from the 6th through 10th. Late Spring winds resulted in some critical fire weather conditions on the 9th and 10th. A back door cold front brought moisture to the east on the 11th through 13th, with widespread severe weather on the 12th across the eastern plains. Mostly dry and hot weather returned for the 14th, while low level moisture returned on the 15th and 16th for a round of showers and storms favoring the eastern half of the state. Dry and hot weather parked itself over New Mexico from the 17th through 19th. A strong back door cold front delivered moisture to the east on the 20th and 21st, producing spotty strong showers and thunderstorms. Isolated 1.00 inch hail fell in Colfax County on the 20th. The moisture spilled into the west on the 21st, giving the Albuquerque to Belen corridor around one half to three quarters of an inch of rain. Heavy rain impacted the Little Bear and Whitewater Baldy burn scar areas on the 22nd. The final week of the month was hot with some record high temperatures. Spotty showers and thunderstorms were around each day but with no severe weather of flash flooding.
 
            June 12 in Portales - photo courtesy Jason Kindred
July began hot with isolated showers and thunderstorms from the southwest to the northeast. Large hail was reported near Black Lake on the 1st. Monsoonal moisture arrived on the 3rd and 4th across western and central New Mexico. An upper level wave on the 5th helped trigger heavy rain, including over the Little Bear burn scar, resulting in flash flooding. The 6th through 8th were active, but with less torrential rain. Typical recycling of moisture produced isolated to scattered storms from the 9th through 13th, with less activity on the 14th and 15th. Increasing moisture from the 16th through 18th resulted in an upswing in convection and local flash flooding. A brief downward trend on the 19th through 22nd was followed by a mostly active period of monsoonal moisture from the 23rd through 26th. The final several days of the month were noticeably less active.

 

 

 

July 26 in Farmington - photo courtesy Mary Jane Washburn

 

 

Early August 2012 became increasingly active as showers and thunderstorms impacted western and northern New Mexico. A back door cold front on the 3rd boosted moisture over the east, resulting in widespread thunderstorms and locally heavy rain. Flash flooding sturck the town of Thoreau on the 5th, flooding streets and several homes and businesses. Another back door front on the 7th to 8th kept enough moisture around for fairly widespread showers and storms, despite high pressure over the four corners region. Dry air though wrapped into the state from the north and east with the 9th and 10th mostly rainfree. A back door cold front reached the northeast late on the 11th and spread moisture south and west on the 12th. This resulted in a significant increase in showers and storms, first in the northeast on the 11th, then area wide on the 12th and 13th. Moisture recycled on the 14th and 15th as another surge of low level moisture followed a cold front on the 16th and 17th, with the 16th very active. Another front on the 19th produced widespread showers and thunderstorms with locally heavy rain and flash flooding. Convection eased a bit from the 20th through 22nd, but isolated flash flooding was reported on the 21st and 22nd. A low pressure system approached on the 23rd and crossed northern New Mexico on the 24th with an uptick in convection. High pressure and dry air built in for the last week of the month with a significant drop in thunderstorms.

August 6 near Aztec - photo courtesy Darren Brown

 
The month began quiet as high pressure continued over the state. Temperatures were above normal with a few record highs in the east. Thunderstorms were few and far between on the 1st and 2nd. The coverage increased gradually from the 3rd through 6th. A strong back door cold front on the 7th sent temperatures plummeting in the east, and strong winds into the Rio Grande Valley late on the 7th. Meanwhile showers and thunderstorms fired in the west and south. A reduction in coverage on the 8th and 9th was followed by more active days on the 10th and especially 11th through 13th. The middle of the month was mostly dry. A strong east canyon wind blasted into the Rio Grande Valley on the evening of the 17th with a peak wind gust of 70 mph at the Kirtland Air Force Base. A gradual increase in moisture from the 22nd through 27th led to isolated to scattered showers and thunderstorms. In particular, some moisture from the remains of Hurricane Miriam delivered rain to the Southeast Plains on the 28th. Moisture recycled through the rest of the month.

 

 

    September 26 Alb.Westside - photo courtesy Todd Shoemake


 


The first five days of October were quiet, dry and warm, except a strong back door cold front on the 4th brought much cooler temperatures to the east on the 4th. A second potent front blasted south across the eastern plains on the 5th into the 6th with low clouds, fog and drizzle behind it. Strong east canyon winds developed on the evening of the 6th and sent temperatures tumbling in the Rio Grande Valley for the 7th. Quiet weather on the 8th through 10th was followed by a significant precipitation event on the 12th. This included isolated reports of high winds and large hail over central and eastern New Mexico. Dry, pleasant weather was the rule from the 13th through 20th. Temperatures were on a roller coaster ride in the east as a few back door cold fronts delivered bouts of cooler air, while lee side troughs warmed temperatures quickly back above normal. A potent storm system off Baja CA was a disappointment by the time it reached new Mexico on the 22nd. The storm quickly weakened and only delivered a few showers to northwest and southeast New Mexico. The bigger weather story was the record warmth and strong winds on the 24th, followed by much colder weather on the 25th and 26th. The remainder of the month turned warmer and more tranquil.
October 24 Rio Grande River - photo courtesy Amanda Martin 


November began the same way October ended...dry and warm. A back door cold front entered the northeast on the 2nd and brought cooler temperatures to the east on the 3rd. A warmup across the east on the 4th was followed by another cool down on the 5th. Meanwhile temperatures fluctuated little across the west through the first week of November, remaining above normal. All of the state was mild to warm on the 6th through 8th before a big change in the weather starting on the 9th, but was really noticed on the 10th and 11th. Some moisture finally made it into New Mexico, including accumulating snow at the higher elevations. Temperatures plummeted well below normal and high winds buffeted portions of central and southern New Mexico. The more tranquil, milder weather pattern returned during the middle of the month with mostly dry conditions. The morning of the 18th though saw some subtropical moisture creep into central and southern New Mexico producing light rain and high mountain snow. Dry weather followed on the 19th and 20th, while another weak disturbance brought light rain to the south on the 21st. The remainder of the month was dry with mostly above normal temperatures.

 


 
             San Ysidro Cirrus - photo courtesy Bill Maruna
   

 

December 12 Sandhill Cranes at Sunset in Corrales - photo courtesy of Bill Maruna
The first eight days of December followed the pattern of much of October and November, that is, mostly dry with above normal temperatures. But that changed abruptly on the 9th, as a deep trough of low pressure and strong cold front brought snow and drastically colder temperatures to the state. Temperatures recovered slowly from well below normal on the 10th to normal or above on the 11th through 13th. The next storm arrived early on the 14th with more moisture than the previous storm, resulting in widespread snow and rain across western and central areas of the state. Another storm quickly moved in on the 15th and departed early on the 16th with moderate snows over the west and north high terrain. Yet another storm quickly arrived on the 18th and continued into the 19th with high winds, snow and much colder temperatures. A break from the active weather from the 20th through 23rd was followed by the 5th significant storm of the month, just in time for Christmas Eve into Christmas Day. Another storm brought relatively minor precipitation to the state on the 27th and 28th. The active pattern delivered one more storm this year, on the 30th into the 31st.

 

 Review of the Severe Weather Across New Mexico in 2012

Severe weather typically occurs across central and eastern New Mexico, however, there are occasionally reports west of the mountains, and many times those are flash flood reports. The map below shows the spatial variation of severe weather reports for 2012.  Click on an individual balloon for more details on the event.

 

Severe weather is defined as hail greater than or equal to 1 inch, thunderstorm wind gusts greater than or equal to 58 mph, a flash flood or a tornado. However, prior to January 5, 2010, the criteria for severe hail was 3/4 inch. For consistency, the table below, as well as the map above, includes all severe weather reports, including hail reports as small as 3/4 inch.  This year, the National Weather Service in Albuquerque received 161 severe weather reports. The total number of severe weather reports across the state as a whole was 240. These totals do not include wind gusts greater than or equal to 58 mph that occurred from non-thunderstorm wind events. The table below shows the breakdown of reports received.

2012 Severe Weather Reports
Event ABQ CWA Statewide
Tornado 6 6
Hail 93 156
Thunderstorm Wind Gust 34 41
Flash Flood 28 37
Total 161 240

A supercell thunderstorm that tracked across east central New Mexico dropped large hail across a swath from northeast De Baca County, southeastward across southwest Curry and central Roosevelt counties on June 12, 2012. The largest hailstones reported in the state this year were associated with this storm, and measured up to 4.5 inches in diameter.  This extremely large hail was noted mainly across southwest Curry and northcentral Roosevelt counties, where numerous wind shields and skylights were broken out. Roofs also sustained unbelievable damage and divets were observed in the ground.  The hail swath is illustrated in the image below.
 

Hail Swath

Dora Hail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             Softball size hail in Dora. Photo by Kerry Jones.


Six tornadoes were reported this year across New Mexico. Four of them were rated EF-0 and two of them were rated EF-1.  The same supercell that resulted in extremely large hail, also produced two short lived tornadoes in Roosevelt County. The first, approximately 3 miles east-northeast of Floyd, produced EF-1 damage, though the hail damage was far more extensive than the tornado damage.

The other EF-1 tornado occurred near Magdalena. This was a rare tornado that not only occurred west of the central mountain chain, but also occurred in a relatively mountainous area itself.  Based on multiple eyewitness accounts, several photos and video, the landspout began as two dust devils merged. The circulation grew vertically and made connection with the parent thunderstorm as it moved east.  The landspout moved over two stock tanks. One was blown back to the west approximately 20 feet and hit a steel fence that was dented. The other tank was blown approximately 0.75 miles to the east and was mangled and in pieces. The landspout crossed State Road 107 and increased in intensity. Numerous pinon and juniper trees as well as cholla cacti were uprooted and displaced between 20 and 100 feet. Fortunately, no homes or outbuildings were damaged or destroyed.
 
Magdalena TornadoMagdalena Tornado Damage

 

 

Left: Cell phone capture of Magdalena tornado. Taken by Rita Goehring.  Above, right: Mangled stock tank tangled around juniper.  Damage photo taken by Jennifer Palucki.

 

The highest measured thunderstorm wind gust was 87 mph which was reported on White Sands Missile Range at Phillips Hill. A thunderstorm producing heavy rain and likely some hail as well, moved southwest, collapsed and the associated outflow boundary produced an 87 mph wind gust.

How does 2012 compare to 2011?  2012 was much more active than 2011, though still below normal in many categories.

How does 2012 compare to normal? Since 1950, the average number of tornadoes reported in the state is 8 to 9, which makes 2012 slightly below average.  At least one tornado has been reported each year since 1953, and before that it is likely that most tornadoes went unreported.  The highest number of tornadoes ever reported was in 1991, when 31 tornadoes devastated parts of the state, especially Eddy and Lea counties.  The average number of hail reports have steadily increased since 1950 due to increased awareness, and today the average number of events is near 130.  Therefore, the number of hail events were slightly above normal.  Flash flooding records only date back to 1993, however since then, the average number of flash flooding events is around 40 per year.  Therefore, 2012 was right around normal for flood events.  Thunderstorm wind events were near the average number of 35 events per year.

 

2012 Severe Weather Events by MonthThe graph on the left shows the distribution of New Mexico severe weather events by month.  New Mexico's primary severe weather season is in the spring, though a secondary season often occurs in the fall. This is somewhat illustrated by hail events this year, however, due to the significantly fewer events as compared to normal, the bimodal distribution of severe weather events is not well represented. This graph also shows that flash flooding in New Mexico is most frequent during monsoon season. Click on the graph for a larger image.

Much of the flash flooding this year occurred over and downstream of recently burned areas. Most of the significant flooding was near the Las Conchas and Little Bear burn scars.  Walls of water, sometimes up to 8 feet deep, were reported within Santa Clara Creek.  Fortunately, most times this dampened out as it reached Santa Clara Pueblo.

Other significant flash flooding occurred near Thoreau on August 5th.  Though it is unclear how much precipitation fell, radar estimates were in the neighborhood of 5 to 7 inches.  Homes were flooding, fences were toppled, the BNSF railroad was closed for several hours, and state and county roads were washed away.  On August 12th, another flash flood event stopped the Rail Runner in its tracks as water flowed over the rail line.  Just four days later, another strong storm producing heavy rainfall went through Kewa Pueblo and continues southeastward toward Cedar Grove. This storm also produced up to golf ball size hail.

 Thoreau Flash Flood

Above left: Flash flooding in Thoreau knocked down these fences and carved out new pathways in the landscape.  Above right: Ongoing heavy rains in Cedar Grove led to flash flooding near Highway 344. Photos by Kerry Jones.

 

 

 


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