From rags to riches, famine to feast, from one extreme to another, whatever you choose to call it, New Mexico has been in a state of transition.
As summer commenced near the end of May, all the signs pointed to another abnormally dry year and a dire shortage of rain. The irrigation season would be cut short again and chile pepper and pecan producers would rely on groundwater to irrigate fields for a third year in a row.
Then the all-encompassing drought that crippled livestock and dairy operations in the state and threatened grain, cotton, vegetable and forage crop quality and yields for another year, took a drastic turn beginning in early July. Like an answer to a prayer, storm clouds began to form and rain began to fall, often hard in some places. Even as the monsoon season waned, the rains continued.
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A series of cool fronts pushed through the state in September; heavy thunderstorms formed regularly where the warm, tropical air and cool Canadian air masses collided, mostly over the southern half of the state, resulting in unexpected downpours.
Between July 27 and August 5, parts of New Mexico, including Bernalillo, Guadalupe, Otero, Rio Arriba, Sandoval, and San Miguel counties, and the Pueblos of Acoma and Santo Domingo, experienced severe storms and flooding that damaged roads, bridges, a dam structure, and other infrastructure.
On Sept 29 the state requested the federal government approve a major disaster declaration request and provide public assistance to help with recovery efforts and repairs, which would include funding for debris removal; emergency protective measures; and repairs to damaged roads and bridges, water control facilities, buildings and equipment, utilities, and parks and recreation facilities.
On Monday (Oct. 6), the President signed the federal declaration of disaster and ordered FEMA to dispatch assistance to aid and supplement state, tribal, and local recovery efforts in areas most affected by recent severe storms and flooding.
While most of the state remains in one level of drought or another after three straight years of rainfall shortages, many areas suffered major damage from heavy monsoonal rains throughout later summer and early fall.
State and tribal officials report severe storms and flooding in recent weeks have caused serious damages to roads and bridges in some areas and preliminary inspections indicate damages will exceed $4 million. But officials say local tribal and community officials are still investigating and assessing damages caused by floods and expect to file additional requests and local disaster declarations.
After President Obama signed the declaration Monday, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials announced they are in the process of setting up meetings in areas hit hardest by heavy flooding to assess the extent of damages and to inform local and tribal governments of the types of assistance available.
Federal funding is available to state, tribal, and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe storms and flooding in the counties and areas most affected. The official declaration lists the counties of Guadalupe, Rio Arriba, and San Miguel and the Pueblo of Acoma as the area where assistance will be concentrated.
Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures in all areas within the state.
The President said Monday that FEMA representatives on the ground in New Mexico will be getting assistance this week as additional FEMA support teams arrive to help coordinate local meetings, provide assistance and get a first-hand look at damages to infrastructure.
Martinez says the area heaviest hit by flooding was Acoma Pueblo where back roads that provided the only route into the backcountry areas were damaged or destroyed, cutting off contact with some tribal residents.
Extreme weather conditions last month also caused significant damage in southeastern New Mexico. Over the last 60 days, all of southeastern New Mexico averaged over eight inches of rain, many times its annual average rainfall rate. Roswell, Carlsbad and El Paso, Texas, received the heaviest city rainfall totals last week, but a few rural areas near Carlsbad and Artesia received from 15 to 20 inches of rain over the same 60-day period in isolated areas.
The White House reports additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by further damage assessments.
The official NOAA Climate Prediction Center outlook for New Mexico precipitation during October favors above normal precipitation over much of the state. The outlook from October through December also leans toward better chances of above normal precipitation compared to near or below normal precipitation.