Cold, wet spring weather to continue in region for the next week

May 12, 2019

Days of dark skies, persistent rain and rushing rivers may feel nearly apocalyptic for some Santa Feans, but meteorologists chalk it up to spring volatility — only slightly colder and wetter than normal.

Northern New Mexico is slumped in a cool, wet weather pattern for the next week. Several inches of snow are forecast for the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above 8,000 feet. An additional inch to an inch-and-a-half of rain is likely to fall over the next 36 hours at lower elevations. And melting snow pack is causing a high water flow through rivers and tributaries.

“But we are not expecting any flood warnings,” said Royce Fontenot, senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. He said runoff from a strong snow season is unlikely to overcome the river banks in most areas, with the exception of a flood advisory in the Rio Chama system and Ojo Caliente area.

“A lot of people are not used to seeing that, particularly on the Rio Grande,” Fontenot said, explaining that water levels this spring are likely to rank among the highest levels in the last 20 years.

“Last year was just pitifully dry and hot,” he said. But this level of moisture, particularly for an El Niño year, is “not terribly unusual, but it’s something we haven’t seen in the last few years.”

Fontenot did advise people recreating on water to use caution and know their skill level. The rivers will run colder and much quicker than normal, he said.

“Cold water will kill you very fast,” he said. “Folks need to pay attention. The threat for hypothermia is pretty real.”

Wendy Blackwell, preparedness bureau chief at the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said the department has been hosting weekly calls on flood planning with state and local managers.

“We are always trying to plan ahead so that we are ready when something happens,” Blackwell said.

Planners are not expecting anything unusual this weekend or flooding in high-risk areas, but she added, “Of course, anything can happen.”

Blackwell said flash flooding in arroyos — the normally dry stream beds — is an important hazard to watch out for. Even when the weather is clear in town, a mountain storm and resulting runoff can cause a sudden wall of water to rush down arroyos where many people hike and walk dogs.

She advised residents, and visitors in particular, to be aware of their surroundings in these areas in case of a sudden flood.

Much of the flood destruction Santa Fe residents saw last July, with heavy flows causing extensive property damage in parts of the city, resulted from street flooding. Officials say that is highly unlikely this weekend, but they are preparing early summer briefings in advance of monsoon season.

Fontenot said overcast skies are likely to persist until the middle of next week.

“We won’t have a return to ‘normal’ spring until next weekend,” he said.