January 2015 - Met Central - Wet Start to the Year

On average January is the driest month of the year on the Sevilleta with a long-term average of only 7.4 mm (0.29"). The wettest January on the Sev during the LTER (1989-present) tenure was 34.3 mm in 2005 (1.35"). The other end of that spectrum was last year with zero precipitation on the refuge during the entire month. So it was easy to exceed that mark and it was quickly done by a storm on the night of Jan 2 when a wrap-around storm targeted the southern and eastern part of the state with the Sevilleta taking a pretty good hit. The Field station seemed to be the bulls-eye on the Sev with about 8" of snow at the Field Station carrying up to 0.80" of water. Most other locations on the refuge got less although it was difficult to ascertain exact amounts as the tipping bucket gauges in use do not do well with blowing snow. Several other storms followed through the month though most really didn't live up to their predictions. Even the month-ending warm storm that provided a couple of the cloudiest days in a long time gave smaller amounts of moisture than might have been expected. Ultimately the 20.8 mm refuge-wide average was almost 3 times the January average and the second wettest January in the past 26 years.

January temperatures at the Sev rode a roller coaster in conjunction with the storms that passed through the state. The month started cold but then experienced successive periods of warmer and cooler than normals through much of the month. Two record breaking daily low temperatures on the 4th and 5th were sort of balanced out by one new record daily high on the 26th and an almost record high on the 27th The average daily high temperatures ran 2 degrees C cooler than average while the average daily lows ran about 0.6 degrees C warmer than average.

    January Record Temperatures - High 24.1 (75.4), Low -20.7 (-5.3 F)
    January '15 Record Temperatures - High 20.5 (68.9 F), Low -18.5 (-1.3 F)

January Meteorological Summary

                       January       January '15       January '15
Variable             Long-term* Mean    Mean           Mean Range
Mean Max Temp (C)         10.45           8.4           6.4 - 9.3
Mean Min Temp (C)         -5.10          -4.5          -6.5 - 2.8
Mean Average Temp (C)      2.68           1.9           1.2 - 2.8
Mean R.H. (%)             50.3           70.4          55.9 - 64.4
Mean Vap Press. (mb)       3.56           4.67         4.43 - 5.30
Mean Max Wind (m/sec)      8.6            6.9           8.0 - 9.2
Mean Solar Rad. (kWh/m2)   3.48           3.08         3.87 - 3.30
Precip.(mm)                7.4           20.8           5.1 - 23.4
*Long-term refers to all of the Sevilleta met stations for 1989-2014

Albuquerque - Sevilleta Comparison

Albuquerque got less moisture from the early January storm than the Sevilleta but ended up getting more from the storm on the 21st and again from the month-end storm. This, at least, starts the calendar year off on the positive side of the ledger with the wettest January since 2005.

               Loc         Precip          Normal         % of Normal
January      	ABQ        17.8 mm          9.7 mm           183 %
                SEV        20.8 mm          7.4 mm           281 %

Year to Date    ABQ        17.8 mm          9.7 mm           183 %
                SEV        20.8 mm          7.4 mm           281 %
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Water-year Precipitation

The Sevilleta is now running above average for the water year. The 59 mm start to the water year is decidedly better than the last two water years when at this point the Sev had seen only 21.8 mm in 2014 and 15.9 mm in 2013

    Water Year Precipitation (mm)

Month           Mean            2013-2015    
Oct             23.0               6.4       
Nov             11.3               7.2
Dec		14.0		   9.7
Jan		 7.4		  20.8
                55.7              58.6


According to the U.S. Drought Monitor the above average January moisture seems to have resulted in only a minimal improvement on the drought situation in NM. The Palmer Drought Index shows NM in much better shape than that indicated by the Drought Monitor. A time series of Palmer Drought Severity in the mid Rio Grande Climate division shows where things stand as of the end of 2014.

The month-end storm gave a decided boost to snow packs around NM. Almost all are still running below average for the winter but this last storms was helpful. There should be about two more months before snow packs begin to decline

Most reservoirs across NM are lower than this time last year. For example Elephant Butte is at 13% of capacity, down from 14% of capacity last year. With regards to average the Butte is at 22% of average, down from 24% of average last year. The current below average snowpack is unlikely to improve that situation. This figure shows what the flow down the Rio Grande has been at Otowi Bridge during the Sev LTER tenure.


A climatologist has dubbed this El Nino "El Limbo". Perhaps a better label would be "El Limpo". While the indicators still say that El Nino continues these indicators are still on the very weak side and the resulting precipitation has been poorer than hoped for. For example, the Sea Surface Temperature (SST) anomaly in the Nino 3.4 zone ended the month right at the magical +0.5 point.  The Oceanic Nino Index (ONI) came in at +0.7 which is still in the weak El Nino range. 

Meanwhile the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) actually went up from -0.6 in November to -0.8 in January with the 5-month running mean going from -0.70 to -0.72 which signifys a negligible strengthening of El Nino.

Notables from on and off the Sev

Here are pictures of the early January snowfall at the field station courtesy of Amaris Swann

Snow 1
Snow 2
Snow 3
Snow 4

February Forecast

Despite a weak El Nino at best, NOAA continues to be optimistic for our chances of above average precipitation during February as well as for the extended Feb-Apr period. There doesn't seem to be much chance of precipitation on the horizon for at least the first two weeks of the month. Temperatures are given equal chances of being above or below normal for February.


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