Rare winter showers were coming to southern New Mexico as mild rain was predicted this week throughout the region, coming off heavier rainfalls reported during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Meteorologists said the moisture was driven by low-pressure air systems coming into the area from the Pacific northwest, dropping into southern New Mexico before being pushed to the northeast U.S.
While typically unseasonable for the dryer late fall and winter months that follow the summer monsoon, analysts said the occasional winter rain can happen when conditions allow.
Meteorologist Chris Stickney with the National Weather Service’s Midland-Odessa Office, which covers southeast New Mexico and West Texas said rain events can occur as the seasons transition, in this case from fall to winter.
“Even though it’s considered our dry season, it’s not uncommon to see some moisture,” he said. “It’s the path that system took that led to precipitation.”
Rain was forecast this week from Alamogordo to Carlsbad, with the former seeing a 10 percent chance of showers throughout the day and night on Wednesday and the latter seeing a 30 percent chance during the same time.
Stickney said the Carlsbad area got about an inch between Nov. 23 and 25, around the holiday and the upcoming event would be lighter – about a tenth to a quarter of an inch.
“It’s not something we see all the time. It’s more than normal,” he said. “But any sort of rain is welcome given the drought conditions. This improves conditions. Rather than getting this in the summer, it won’t dry up as much.”
Zak Aronson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office in El Paso, covering south-central and southwest New Mexico, said Alamogordo would see similar amounts of rainfall in the coming days.
“We’ve got some tropical moisture coming in from the Pacific,” he said. “It’s bringing some cloud cover and showers. It’ll be rotating into Alamogordo.”
He said the area also saw some rain, albeit heavier, during the Thanksgiving holiday and such precipitation can happen, although rare, this late in the year.
“It was kind of a similar situation,” Aronson said of the Thanksgiving rains. “They do happen, but we usually don’t get a whole lot of rain with these. It’s a pretty dry time of year.”
Looking ahead, Aronson said conditions were likely to dry up in the coming winter and early spring months, increasing wildfire risks.
Last spring brought devastating fires to New Mexico as dry conditions were met with high winds, generating the two largest wildfires in the state’s history.
The Calf Canyon Hermits Peak Fire burned about 371,000 acres the northern part of the state – the largest fire in the state’s history – while the Black Fire scorched about 325,000 acres in the southwest region. It was the second largest fire recorded in New Mexico’s history.
“We’ll probably dry out a little bit more as we get into the spring and the start of fire weather,” Aronson said.
The recent rains, coupled with a wet summer and early fall improved New Mexico’s drought conditions compared with last year, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
About 3.74 percent of New Mexico was in extreme drought, the second-highest drought class, the Monitor showed as of Nov. 29, compared with 19 percent a year ago.
Eddy County was mostly under moderate drought conditions, the Monitor showed, while Otero County was slightly better with mostly abnormally dry conditions and a southern portion of the county listed as having no drought conditions.
Extreme to exceptional drought was reported on the eastern edge of New Mexico in Lea and Chaves counties, along with in northeast New Mexico in Union County.
The latest report from the National Integrated Drought Information System showed 8,683 people in Otero County were affected by drought, about 13.6 percent of county residents.
Eddy County fared much worse with 52,194 people impacted, the report read, about 97 percent of the county.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.