Heavy monsoon rains over the summer and a series of downpours over the weekend were unlikely to provide solace from drought conditions threatening agricultural operations throughout southeast New Mexico.
While the Carlsbad Irrigation District (CID) recently upped its allotment to 2.2 acre feet (AF) per acre of land, a growth of about 0.4 AF, CID manager Coley Burgess said the area was likely still in for a dry winter unlikely to be offset by the rains.
An acre foot is the amount of water covering an acre of land, distributed to members of an irrigation district like the CID per acre of land watered.
Burgess said on his ranch near Carlsbad, about 9 inches fell so far this year, up from 3 inches last year but still behind the average of 12 inches a year.
“I’m not that optimistic,” Burgess said of the recent rainfall. “It’s late in the season, but it’s better than nothing. The forecast is supposed to be wetter and colder. We’ll have to wait until spring to see what happened.”
But the recent rainfall could provide some respite, Burgess said, reporting a final irrigation was expected for district members in the coming weeks.
“Most of our members have used all of their water this year. They could use more water,” he said. “This rain in the last few days should help. The canal should be turned back on. There should be one more irrigation this year for those who still have water left.
“I would say we are still in a drought.”
This year’s rain also receded some of the area’s drought conditions, according to the latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor.
As of Oct. 11, southeast New Mexico was mostly downgraded in the past three months to moderate to severe drought conditions reported in Eddy County and most of Chaves County.
Lea County to the east maintained extreme drought conditions, but Otero County to the west had some moderate drought conditions, improving to abnormally dry or no drought conditions at all in the middle or southern portion of the county, the Drought Monitor showed.
Statewide, New Mexico dropped to 52 percent moderate drought from 97 percent at the start of the year, and to 26 percent severe drought from 75 percent reported in January.
An August flood north of town in Chaves County and parts of northern Eddy County brought added flows to the CID’s reservoirs, Burgess said – water that can be used during times of limited rain.
“The whole basin didn’t get wetted like you’d want,” he said of that event. “Everyone got rain, but it wasn’t as spread out as you’d want. Rainfall in the district always helps, but when we have low rainfall, water in our reservoirs has to come from somewhere.
“Usually, it’s those big flooding events.”
And as the region hopes to see more such events and heavy rains ahead of the normally parched winter months, Burgess said users in the area must begin to adapt to an even dryer climate in the arid southern portion of the state.
“Do what you can to use your water more efficiently,” he said. “CID is working on way to deliver water more efficiently and prevent loss. We need to find way to growth the same quantity and quality of crops with less water.”
Fall rains subside for sunny, dry conditions in the next week
Rain clouds appeared to part over southeast New Mexico Tuesday as heavy fall rains from the weekend appeared poised to give way to the normally dry late fall and winter seasons.
While the Carlsbad area saw heavy rainfall Sunday and Monday, with up to an inch of rain dropping in some parts of the region, chances of moisture dropped through the rest of the week.
Meteorologist Scott Kleebauer with the National Weather Service’s Midland-Odessa Office said there were no more rain events expected this week, looking ahead to a potential cold front next week but unsure if it would produce more rain.
“The rain event is officially over,” he said of the weekend showers on Tuesday. “We’re going to see clearing tonight. This was a pretty decent disturbance.”
In the coming days, Kleebauer said temperatures would heat back up into the 70s, after recent storm cloud cover saw temperatures falling into the 50s and 60s at the start of the week.
The storms rainfall from two thirds of an inch in Artesia to more than an inch in Caprock to the east, with Carlsbad and surrounding areas raging from half an inch to and inch, he said.
“The mountains faired a little better than the surrounding plains,” Kleebauer said. “But the plains did pretty good too.”
Carlsbad was forecast to gradually warm up this week, with a high of 67 degrees Fahrenheit predicted Wednesday and 72 degrees on Thursday.
Friday was forecast at 74 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, and 75 degrees on Saturday.
The rest of the week was also expected to see clear skies and sunny conditions.
“We’re going to be pretty quiet,” Kleebauer said. “I don’t see anything in the foreseeable future.”
The warming up and returning sun was also predicted for Alamogordo and south-central New Mexico, as the National Weather Service’s El Paso Office forecast highs climbing from 62 on Wednesday to 75 by Saturday.
A La Nina weather pattern was predicted to continue throughout the year, read a recent announcement from the National Weather Service, meaning warmer and dryer weather could persist in the southwest.
An Oct. 13 announcement from the National Weather Service pointed to a 75 percent change on continued La Nina conditions through February – the third winter in a row.
That’s only happened three times since 1950 when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began tracking the pattern, records show.
La Nina is characterized by warmer- and dryer-than-average weather during the winter months in the U.S.’ southern plans, with more rainfall in the northwest.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we are dryer,” Kleebauer said of the coming winter months in southeast New Mexico and West Texas. “Typically, it (La Nina) is dryer. It really depends on the features that set up during wintertime.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.