Storms Brighten Runoff Forecast

Northern Mountains Expected to Have Above Average Snowmelt

The New Mexican 

Helped by the recent storm, the water-supply forecast remains fairly good for New Mexico’s northern mountains, but a lot will depend on what the skies do in the next six weeks.

“Our forecasts are based on normal precipitation from now forward,” according to Wayne Sleep, New Mexico’s snow survey program director for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “If we don’t receive at least average precipitation, the stream flow forecasts could drop.”

Too many warm, dry days in the spring could also decrease the river flow forecasts, Sleep said. Still, in an average year, New Mexico receives most of its snow in February and March.

The Rio Grande basin is still predicted to have above-average spring snowmelt flows, according to the runoff forecast released this week by the National Weather Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Back in the fall, a weather pattern set up along a line from Raton to Albuquerque to Silver City. Areas north and areas west of the line had “decent to good moisture. East and south of the line have been “poor to terrible,” Sleep said.

The pattern held through this week.

The Sangre de Cristos and other northern mountains received some of the best snowpack in decades through early January. Then La Niña prompted a cooling in the equatorial central Pacific Ocean that may have helped push the storm track north and east of the state. Rain and snow squalls since Saturday brought the first moisture in weeks, according to Ed Polasko, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.

Ski Santa Fe picked up 22 inches of snow through Tuesday night, and Taos Ski Valley picked up 20 inches.

Based on current forecasts, the Rio Grande Basin is looking pretty good for snowmelt runoff. Cochiti Lake is expected to receive flows 118 percent above the average, and Elephant Butte Lake could receive flows 124 percent better than normal. Santa Rosa Lake and the Navajo Reservoir are expected to be above average.

Snowpack in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains could lead to above-average flows into rivers and streams feeding the Rio Grande.

Conchas Reservoir could see below-normal spring snowmelt runoff. Flows in the Gila River in Southern New Mexico are also expected to be below normal.

New Mexico reservoir storage is well below normal in the Rio Grande Basin, Canadian Basin and Pecos Basin, but near normal at Navajo Lake.

Polasko said weather watchers are keeping a close eye on La Niña. “Last year, La Niña turned off the storm track after the first week of March and it never came back,” Polasko said.

For the next 10 days, at least, it looks as if New Mexico will be in and out of the storm track, he said.