National Weather Service issues hazardous weather outlook for Northeast N.M.

August 6, 2018

A short but furious burst of rain knocked out power to a couple of thousand homes and residences on Santa Fe’s northeast side, including the downtown area, for more than three hours Friday afternoon, causing backups at major intersections where traffic lights had gone dark.

The storm followed a soaking across Santa Fe County on Thursday night that prompted a swift-water rescue in La Puebla, where a vehicle was swept into the Santa Cruz River; forced the shutdown of N.M. 76 in Chimayó due to a flash flood; and caused an outage at the Santa Fe Regional Airport, leading to flight delays and cancellations.

Farther north, an overnight flash flood in tiny Ute Park, near Cimarron, caused a mud flow 3 feet deep and several hundreds yards wide in the burn scar left by the Ute Park Fire earlier this summer.

The Ute Park area received seven-tenths to eight-tenths of an inch of rain, according to the weather service. The Cimarron rain gauge showed less than half an inch.

“It doesn’t take much to do damage there,” said Alyssa Clements, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.

The weather service called the Ute Park flood “the most significant of the season,” threatening 20 homes and damaging cars.

Sections of the city of Santa Fe received between one-tenth and three-tenths of an inch of rain, while the nearby mountains received 1.5 inches, the weather service said. Española got just under one-tenth, while Las Vegas, N.M., saw only a trace and Taos received less than two-tenths of an inch.

While the summer monsoon rains have brought welcome relief to Northern New Mexico after months of dry conditions — quelling fears of catastrophic wildfires in the Santa Fe National Forest — the powerful downpours also have left problems in their wake.

City crews and residents are still cleaning up and assessing damages from July 23 floodwaters that swamped Santa Fe.

Nearby La Cienega was perhaps hit hardest by last week’s flooding. Officials with El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a living history museum and popular summer event venue, said a surge of floodwater caused massive destruction at the site, including damage to a centuries-old acequia.

Santa Fe County spokeswoman Kristine Mihelcic said crews were going door to door in La Cienega on Friday to help clear debris and ask if residents needed any assistance with wells. Residents with flooded wells can get water at a county-owned bulk water filling station on N.M. 14, she said.

The county was trying to supply sandbags to the La Cienega fire station, she added.

The city of Santa Fe has handed out 14,000 sandbags in the last two weeks and does not plan to distribute more, said spokesman Matt Ross, because forecasts all calling for more “standard monsoonal rains.”

“We are in a typical monsoonal pattern for the weekend,” Clements confirmed. “Thunderstorm coverage looks to decrease this weekend because of a high-pressure area, but there could still be some thunderstorms in Santa Fe.”

Roseanne Rodriguez, a spokeswoman with the New Mexico Department of Transportation, said crews in Chimayó were bracing for more storms as they worked “in full force” Friday to clear mud and debris from a three-mile stretch of N.M. 76 that was hit by a flash flood around 9:30 p.m. Thursday. The highway was reopened just before 3 a.m. Friday, but damage and debris remained.

Clements said storms are predicted to pick up next week.

The weather service issued a bulletin Friday morning warning of hazardous weather into next week for extensive areas of Northern and Central New Mexico, including the northern mountains, the middle and lower Rio Grande Valley and the state’s eastern plains.

Heavy rainfall “may lead to localized areas of flash flooding,” the bulletin said, “especially over and near recent and older burn scars.” Across Eastern New Mexico, the warning said, storms could produce hail and wind gusts of up to 50 mph.

“Storm motions will be slow and rainfall could become heavy,” the weather service said.

The latest seasonal assessment from the agency noted that in the Southwestern U.S., “moisture from the remnants of Pacific Hurricane Bud in mid-June brought heavy showers to parts of the region, while monsoonal rains developed in earnest during mid-July.”

The outlook called for “a robust Southwest monsoon, and when combined with a wet climatology, should produce general improvement, especially in the short-term, to most of the Four Corners region.”

The next seasonal outlook report is expected Aug. 16.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Drought Monitor map for New Mexico released Thursday shows just small areas of Southern and Eastern New Mexico in “abnormally dry” conditions but free of drought. The rest of the state remains in severe to extreme drought, with the Four Corners region and a large swath of northwestern and north-central New Mexico facing the worst conditions.

Most of Santa Fe County is in extreme drought, the map shows, despite the troublesome deluges the past two weeks.

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