FARMINGTON – The San Juan River Basin is experiencing lower-than-average rainfall and increased temperatures for this time of year, leading to increased wildfire concerns and predictions of a below-normal monsoon, experts say.
“Currently, we are experiencing higher temperatures and lower rainfall than average for the river basin,” said Royce Fontenot, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service based in Albuquerque. “Even in a dry time, we’re seeing drier than normal conditions.”
Over the last 60 days, temperatures in the Four Corners have ranged from 1 to 4 degrees above normal. A big deviation from average temperatures, said Fontenot, who presented the data at Wednesday’s San Juan Water Commission meeting.
From April 1 to June 2 the Four Corners Regional Airport in Farmington received 0.12 of an inch of rain. Typically, in that time frame the area should have received 1.51 inches of precipitation. The average temperature recorded there has also been 2.5 degrees above normal.
With higher temperatures, less rainfall and a below-average snowpack, concerns about wildfire in the region are high.
“The current outlook does indicate above normal significant wildfire risk for the area into June and July,” Fontenot told The Durango Herald.
He said a significant wildfire is classified as being too large for local resources to handle and requires out-of-area support. Fontenot is also a wildfire incident meteorologist.
Southwest Colorado has not escaped drought concerns either. In early May, it was relisted in the “extreme drought” category on the U.S. Drought Monitor for the first time since the 2018-19 winter. The above-average hot and dry conditions have also led to wildfire concerns in the area.
“It’s making what was already not great, worse,” Fontenot said of the high temperatures and low rainfall. “You’re starting behind a curve, even if we see a good monsoon season.”
Typically, the monsoon for the river basin area lasts from July 1 to Sept. 30. While early indications point to below-normal rainfall during the season, Fontenot cautioned the monsoon can be hard to predict accurately.
The rains during that three month period can be crucial to determining the annual rainfall for an area. For example, Bloomfield during an average monsoon can receive 3.5 inches of rain, accounting for more than a third of its annual rainfall of 9.7 inches. And when the average rainfall in October – typically a wet month in northwest New Mexico – is factored in, the amount of precipitation in the four-month period accounts for almost half of the area’s annual total.
“Folks in the Four Corners like to think about snowmelt and what’s happening in the mountains but that monsoon moisture is important,” Fontenot said. “If you’re a farmer and you’re not near the river, you need that moisture.”
He added the timing and location of the monsoon can also be a key factor, especially for agriculture and farming.
“If the bulk occurs in September, is that really helping you out?” he said. “You need steady thunderstorms every few days.”