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It rained in Albuquerque Wednesday night

Author: Marianne Goodland - January 11, 2018 - Updated: January 11, 2018

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A snow survey at the Phillips Station snow course in California showed snowpack at this location at 1.3 inches of depth with a water content of .4 inches. California’s water managers are saying it’s too early yet for fears that the state is sliding back into its historic five-year drought. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

 

Albuquerque got rain Wednesday night. The National Weather Service recorded 0.03 inches.

That’s welcome news to a community that hasn’t had rain in 96 days. It isn’t a record; The Albuquerque Journal said it’s the fifth-longest. But it’s a harbinger of a very dry water year, according to John Fleck, a professor at the University of New Mexico’s water resources program. Fleck’s rain gauge was a little more generous, at 0.09 inches of precipitation.

Fleck wrote in his blog Inkstain that that 2017-18 water year, which began on Oct. 1, is the third driest in recorded history.

A dry year is feared almost everywhere now in the West. Outside reported this winter is likely the driest in the West in six decades. Ski areas are reportedly providing food to employees who are idled because the ski areas are nowhere near opening all their runs.

The National Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported earlier this month that Colorado’s snowpack is well below average. It’s worst in southwestern Colorado, where the snowpack is today at 35 percent of normal. Even the central mountains are below average, although not as severe, at between 72 percent of normal in the Steamboat Springs and Aspen areas to 80 percent in areas near the Wyoming border that includes the North Platte River.

Colorado snowpack
Colorado snowpack as of 1/11/18

What everyone in the West needs is precipitation, but so far it isn’t in the cards. Kerry Jones, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said that “ee would need unprecedented wetness, almost equivalent to the dryness we have experienced, to make up the ground we have lost.”

An overdry year may spell more trouble down the road, and not just for ski areas. Lakes Powell and Mead, which provide water to 40 million residents along the Colorado, recently showed the first signs in several years of improved water levels. Some of that was attributed to improved conservation in the three states of the lower Colorado (Nevada, Arizona, and California), but an above-average snowfall year in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California also played a role. The New York Times reported last week that the Sierras are also at near-historic lows on snowfall.

The good news is that it’s too early to tell if Denver Water, for example, will have to implement ramped-up water restrictions for summer. Spokesman Travel Thompson told Colorado Politics that the water provider’s reserves are actually a little better than they are for other areas of the state, with good supplies along the South Platte and in northern Colorado.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland