“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
25% less water for all even if precipitation is the same by 2070
The March 2022 Leap Ahead Analysis provides the most comprehensive overview of New Mexico climate aridification and its impact on water and landscape through 2070. Temperatures are expected to rise by 5 to 7 °F. Rising temperatures are already reducing snowpack; streamflows and groundwater recharge (projected decline of at least 25%); and soil moisture while increasing reservoir evaporation rates; and the amount of water needed by plants and animals. More frequent and severe wildfires are also already occurring along with post fire flooding that triggers heavy debris flow and erosion. It is anticipated that south-facing slopes will lose soils that take thousands of years to form. In northwest New Mexico, the loss of vegetation that holds sand dunes in place will result in sand migration covering roads and homes. Eastern New Mexico will experience the return to dust bowl conditions. Some forests will disappear; some shorter forests may evolve. In 1,200 years of tree ring data, we are currently experiencing the worst “megadrought” ever. Several climate models project the threshold for drought that will kill all trees will be met before 2050. Link to talks by scientists who wrote the report. Highly recommended! Don’t miss Aug 9 and 13.
After Alaska, the southwest is the fastest warming part of the country, and New Mexico has warmed the most of these states, rising 3.32°F between 1970-2018. Las Cruces, NM was the fastest warming city in this report. (Climate Central)
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. To see the current levels of Elephant Butte click here.
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) To see recent stream flows at one point along the Rio Grand click here.
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. To see the latest drought conditions click on the map.
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.
Our Land has weekly episodes on climate issues in New Mexico. There are interviews with leading climate scientists, Rio Grande Water issues, and community gardens. All shows are archived.
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.
States At Risk Project for visualizing climate change.
Laura Paskus, NM political report 2017
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.
From ranchers to rafting guides, New Mexicans share their stories of how climate change is affecting their lives and livelihoods. These stories seek to deepen scientific understanding of what is at stake for us as individuals and communities in New Mexico. They illuminate climate change-related dangers and opportunities for ordinary New Mexicans to take action right now to protect our home.