Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

"New Mexico rain" by dave_hensley is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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The upcoming monsoon season usually brings some much-needed relief to New Mexico from a drought that has gripped the state for the last year. However, according to the National Weather Service, New Mexico is expected to have below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures over the course of the monsoon season, which typically lasts from June through September. An underwhelming winter has placed significant stress on the state’s limited water resources, and for many who depend on the Rio Grande for farming and ranching, they will be virtually dependent on the monsoon season to meet their water needs. 

Earlier this week water levels at Lake Meade hit a record low since the lake was first formed in the 1930s. The entirety of the American West is set to face a historically hot and water-stressed summer. Farmers and ranchers in New Mexico, particularly along the Rio Grande, have been asked to forego planting this year.

The last two years have been abnormally dry as the traditional monsoon season has brought little to alleviate water-stressed farmers and ranchers in the state. Some have even referred to the previous two monsoon seasons as “nonsoons.” The last wet year that New Mexico and the region experienced was back in 2019. Even if the monsoons produce this year, it will have little impact on drought conditions in the region. The New York Times reported that it would take several consecutive wet years to have any impact on the drought. 

According to the National Weather Service, the upcoming monsoon season is expected to bring more moisture than previous seasons, but it may be too little too late. Farmers and ranchers will welcome a fruitful monsoon season, but experts predict that the summer will also be hotter than the historical average. Blistering temperatures and rain will also negatively affect the already abysmal snowpack in the southern Rockies that supplies much of the southwest with water. The New York Times reported that it “would take several wet years in a row to banish the drought completely, and while the natural variability of climate means that such a long wet spell cannot be ruled out, climate change makes it less likely.”

The strain that the previous two years of “nonsoons” have placed on the state can already be observed in the number of wildfires that have sprung up in the last few months. Wildfire season started prematurely this year. It is not abnormal for wildfires to happen this early in the season, but the number and intensity of the fires are alarming. The Three Rivers Fire near Ruidoso is indicative of this trend. The fire ignited in April and has burned over five thousand acres as of May 31. Its intensity and size this early in the season was due to the Sierra Blanca Range receiving nearly zero percent of its historic snowfall. 

As New Mexico and the rest of the West braces for another water-strained summer, many can only hope that the predictions for an above-average monsoon season will come to fruition.