Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Worsening drought for New Mexico

Staci Matlock in the Santa Fe New Mexican: ...A drought fact sheet released this week by Earth Gauge, a joint project of the American Meteorological Society and the National Environmental Education Foundation, notes 10 percent of the United States, including a chunk of New Mexico, is in a severe drought. For some areas, the conditions are the worst since 1900, when weather stations first began keeping regular precipitation records. A drought outlook released Oct. 20 by the federal Climate Prediction Center says the dry times are likely to continue and get worse in New Mexico through the winter and spring.

The region has yet to endure the deep pinch of historic mega-dry times, which scientists think lasted decades or even centuries because of natural causes. But as New Mexico enters the second winter in a moisture deficit and after the driest first 10 months on record, specters of past droughts loom. And the question remains: How much of a new drought will be from natural climate change, and how much will be from greenhouse-gas emissions from human activity?

Occasional snowstorms or rainstorms won't be enough to make up for a long-term deficit. After some recent rains in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe's two municipal reservoirs remain at about 18 percent of usable capacity and a third of total capacity.

Still, we have seen nowhere near the worst drought in the region. The worst New Mexico drought in recent memory occurred in the 1950s.

Using the data and sophisticated computer modeling, scientists can build a picture of what the climate was like in one season or over the course of many centuries. Climatologists are interested in the long-term patterns. Only by looking at moisture and drought over an extended period can they understand whether the patterns are changing, what causes the change and how rapidly....

The Big Bend South Rim, shot by Adam Baker, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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