The rains, while welcome, present a high risk of flash flooding off of burn scars left by wildfires such as the Ute Park blaze that swept through 36,000 acres of land around the Philmont Scout Ranch and near Cimarron. The flash flood risks are expected to continue through Saturday, according to meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.
For nine days in late June, parishioners at Peñasco's San Antonio de Padua Catholic Church prayed for rain, saying the rosary each day in a heartfelt call to the heavens for a blessing of moisture during a drought that's made growing crops hard but the spread of wildfire easy.
It seems their prayers may soon be answered.
According to the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, precipitation is heading to the Taos area Thursday (July 5) and could signal the start to steady rains throughout late summer and early fall.
Those rains, while welcome, present a high risk of flash flooding off of burn scars left by wildfires such as the Ute Park blaze that swept through 36,000 acres of land around the Philmont Scout Ranch and near Cimarron. The flash flood risks are expected to continue through Saturday, according to meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.
Early July is typically the start of monsoon season in the Southwest. In New Mexico, monsoons can account for nearly half of the precipitation in a year. Several weather models used by the weather service to predict precipitation are showing the actual onset of monsoon season could begin later this week.
"It looks promising especially for Taos and the Española Valley," said Kerry Jones, a meteorologist with the weather service. "The catch is: we've got to keep it going," he said. Sometimes, the weather patterns "break down" into isolated rains and are a false start to the annual monsoons like some areas of New Mexico experienced in the past two weeks, he said.
Monsoons, while predictable, are dependent on weather patterns in oceans and the equator, such as Pacific air circulating over the Rocky Mountains and sea surface temperatures that drive weather globally.
And the actual amount of rain produced by monsoons is highly variable from year to year.
For example, 2006 was the wettest monsoon season on record for many parts of New Mexico -- a "banner year," Jones said, with a total of 9.42 inches of rain for the Albuquerque area. But monsoons are generally those iconic afternoon thunderstorms, rolling through some places and not through others. In Taos, 2006 was at the bottom of the list of the 15 wettest monsoon seasons. However, last year was among the top for the Taos area, with 9.17 inches of rain falling, according to weather service data.
Across the state, 2011 was one of the driest monsoon seasons on record. Yet in Taos, 2011 doesn't even rank in the top 25 driest seasons.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center released a one-month weather outlook that suggests this portion of Northern New Mexico will see near-normal or slightly above-average precipitation throughout July.
The Climate Prediction Center's' models suggest that the drought will persist across the state but should improve between August and September. It's a similar prognosis for the Four Corners area though some parts of the country, like central Texas, may see their drought conditions worsen during that same time.
"We can have a wet period and it make a dent (in the precipitation deficit). In the past we've seen a deficit get wiped out in less than a month," Jones said.
But Jones warned that a really good season of sustained rains doesn't necessarily mean the drought is going away entirely.
New Mexico is still seeing the impacts of last winter's "abysmal snowpack," he said. "Just because you get a good monsoon and things seem to be on the up and up, you still deal with effects of a poor snow year," Jones said.
Floyd Archuleta, a rancher in Des Montes north of Taos, has been glad for even a trickle of acequia water but knows the onset of the monsoons is the only thing that will make the rest of the season manageable. He estimated that among all his fields, he only baled about one-fifth of the hay he usually gets from the first cutting of alfalfa.
He's hoping for rain so he can get another cutting to feed his 30 cows.
"Keep praying," Archuleta said.
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