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Climate Crisis in New Mexico
“New Mexico’s climate is getting hotter and drier, driven by regional and global warming trends. This means earlier springs, hotter summers, and less predictable winters. Precipitation patterns are also changing, with more intense droughts and a greater proportion of precipitation falling as rain rather than snow.” Union of Concerned Scientists
Rising Temperatures, More Heat Extremes
New Mexico is the sixth-fastest-warming state in the nation. The average annual temperature has increased about 0.6°F per decade since 1970 or about 2.7°F over 45 years (Tebaldi et al).
Reduced SnowPack and Stream Falls
Shrunken snowpacks and earlier snowmelts contribute to lower stream flows at critical times of year when the reduced availability of water has greater economic and environmental consequences.
Elephant Butte Reservoir reached its lowest level in 40 years in 2013—just 3 percent of its storage capacity, compared with a nearly full reservoir in 1994 (left). As a result, farmers received less than 10 percent of their typical irrigation water, forcing them to turn to groundwater and other sources
Low Flow in the Rio Grande
Flow in the Rio Grande, which relates directly to the amount and timing of snow melt in the mountains north of Albuquerque, is one of the best indicators of drought in New Mexico. Every year from 2009 to 2014 was drier than average on New Mexico’s portion of the Rio Grande, and the period from 2011 to 2013 was the hottest and driest since recordkeeping began in 1895 (Cart 2013). And in southern New Mexico, the Rio Grande stands dry for up to nine months of the year. (New Mexico in Depth)
In a 2018 paper from University of New Mexico graduate Shaleene Chavarria and UNM’s Earth and Planetary Sciences Professor, New Mexico’s leading climate scientist, David Gutzler, show how warming is affecting snowpack and streamflows. New Mexico in Focus PBS Video
Rainfall, when it occurs, tends to happen in more extreme deluges, leading to flooding. And the timing of precipitation over the course of the year is shifting, creating mismatches between water supply and water demand, especially for agriculture. Across the Southwest, the capacity of snow to store water is crucial to managing water, and climate change risks disrupting this vital source of New Mexico’s water supply.
In recent years, drought, insects, and wildfires have ravaged New Mexico forests at a scale not seen in living memory. Higher temperatures and drought will increase the severity, frequency and the extent of wildfires in New Mexico. These wildfires have the potential to cause destruction to property, livelihoods, and human health. The smoke created by wildfires can reduce air quality and increase medical visits for chest pains, respiratory problems, and heart problems. Los Conchas Fire, Los Alamos, 2011
Extreme precipitation, flooding, and wildfires have affected sites that are central to New Mexico’s heritage. The rock carvings and cliff dwellings of Bandelier National Monument tell the story of some of the earliest inhabitants of the Americas, while their descendants live nearby in modern-day pueblos. Protecting the archaeological, ecological, and cultural features of this landscape has become more difficult as drought, large wildfires, and extreme flooding increase the risks to them and the infrastructure they depend upon.
New Mexico’s climate is getting hotter and drier, driven by regional and global warming trends. This means earlier springs, hotter summers, and less predictable winters. Precipitation patterns are also changing, with more intense droughts and a greater proportion of precipitation falling as rain rather than snow. Shrunken snowpacks and earlier snowmelts contribute to lower stream flows at critical times of the year when the reduced availability of water has greater economic and environmental consequences.
Most New Mexicans know climate change is happening and understand it is human-caused. According to recently-released data, New Mexicans are also more likely than people in about half the country to talk not just about the weather, but climate.