2013 New Mexico Hydrologic and Drought Review

The 2013 hydrologic story began with moderate or worse drought over nearly all of New Mexico. Nearly two-thirds of the state was in severe to exceptional drought (see image to the right).

Drought Severity

  • D0 - Abnormally DryD0 - Abnormally Dry
  • D1 Drought - ModerateD1 Drought - Moderate
  • D2 Drought - SevereD2 Drought - Severe
  • D3 Drought - ExtremeD3 Drought - Extreme
  • D4 Drought - ExceptionalD4 Drought - Exceptional

January 1, 2013  

 
The severity of the drought to start 2013 was the result of the second driest year on record in 2012. The graph below tells the story, with only 1956 drier across the state. The 2011 year was the 8th driest on record, helping to build the foundation of the drought.

Snowpack across the New Mexico mountains was pretty good to start the year, thanks to four storms in ten days during December 2012.

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Unfortunately the storm track would abandon New Mexico during the first three months of 2013, much like it did the pprevious two late winters and early springs. Statewide, January, February and March precipitation was 69%, 61% and 34% of normal, respectively. Spring warmth arrived well ahead of schedule once again, although not to the extreme of the past two years.

Thus, the snowmelt runoff season started well ahead of schedule once again and by April 1st snowpack had dropped drastically (image below). By May 1st, the snowpack was basically gone (farther below) aside from the high peaks of the northern mountains. It was noted by several Meteorologists and Hydrologists that the forecast runoff was not making it from the mountains to the rivers. It was generally felt that the bare and parched ground part way down the mountains all the way to the rivers soaked up much more water than would normally be expected, due to the long term drought of the past two plus years.

 

As dry weather continued through the spring, drought conditions continued to worsen. The April through June statewide precipitation was the 6th driest on record. As of July 2, the entire state was in a drought status, nearly 99 percent of New mexico was in severe to exceptional drought, and almost 93 percent was in extreme to exceptional drought!

New Mexico reservoirs were drying up, with statewide average storage less than 20 percent. The photos below from NASA show the amazing transformation of the Elephant Butte Resevoir from the mid 1990s to mid 2013.

 

To put this long duration drought in perspective, it rivaled those of the early 1900s and 1950s droughts.  The graph below reveals just how bad it was, with the 36 month period from July 2010 through June 2013 the driest on record.

  

The NOAA National Climatic Data Center reported that the first six months of 2013 had been the seventh driest start to any year on record for New Mexico. Statewide average precipitation was only 44 percent of normal.
 


As July got underway, so did the monsoon. Heavy rain, hail and strong winds arrived on the 2nd and did not let up through much of the month. July ended up the 7th wettest July on record since 1895. The table below illustrates how beneficial the above normal rainfall was for the state, with big improvements on the percent of normal rain fall for the year for many locations. Statewide average precipitation went from 44 percent through the first six months of 2013 to 71 percent of normal by the end of July!

No, this is not snow, but 12 inches of hail in Santa Rosa on July 3rd! 

photo by Santa Rosa FD

 
The monsoon backed off some in August, with statewide precipitation exactly normal (2.38 inches). This helped raise the average precipitation for the year to 79 percent of normal across New Mexico.
 

Typically the monsoon begins to wane during the month of September. That was far from the case this year as epic, historic rainfall, flash flooding and river flooding occurred across widespread areas of the state. The bulk of the rain fell between the 9th and 18th. While the rain certainly put a dent in the short term drought and added much needed water to the reservoirs, it came at a price. Widespread flash flooding and even river flooding was reported. For an excellent review of this unprecendented event, click here.

                      Flooding in Mogollon Sep 16 - photo by Dan Scham              Bernardo Wash in Chaves CO - photo by Gordon Scott

September 2013 ended up the 2nd wettest on record, with an average statewide precipitation of 4.02 inches. Only 1941 was wetter, with a remarkable statewide average rainfall of 5.84 inches.

By the time September was over, the state was suddenly at 104 percent of normal precipitation for the year!

 

The remainder of the year was relatively quiet. October received below normal precipitation statewide while November was above normal, especially over the northwest and north central mountains. By December 1st, a decent snowpack was developing over the southern San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Through November 2013, statewide precipitation was at 101% of normal while statewide temperatures were 0.3 degrees above normal.

While the 2013 year ended up with near normal temperatures and precipitation not too far above normal, the weather during the course of the year was anything but 'ordinary' or 'normal'! 

 

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