New Mexico Floods, Mudslides, and More Rain to Come

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The Rio Grande River is moving fast and furious with flood waters from local thunderstorms, and debris is piling up beneath the bridges, blocking the flow of water beneath the Alameda bridge. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman

Can New Mexico recover from flooding and massive mudslides?

Water is the simplest substance on earth and one of the fundamental building blocks of the universe.

In the dry, arid land of the American Southwest, it brings peace to the land in the form of glassy lakes and silent, gliding streams.

However, water also has a violent, murderous side – a side that has struck New Mexico for nearly a week with a fury that has stunned its people, breaking a rainfall record from 1929, flooding roads, flowing over bridges and arroyos and creating dangerous, damaging mudslides.

New Mexico changed overnight from years of damaging drought conditions to record-breaking rainfalls and flash floods.

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The Rio Grande River filled with muddy water from mountain run-off races past Corrales, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

 2013 Flooding in New Mexico

According to Meteorologist Deirdre Kann, who has worked with the National Weather Service for 19 years, “This monsoon season is exceptional for its unusual flows on rivers. We haven’t seen this much rain since the forties. It’s a 50 year event,” she said.

Almost no part of the State of New Mexico has been spared. Earlier it was the eastern plains with numerous reports of three to four inches, from Chavez to Roswell, with localized events of five to six inches. Then later in the week the focus shifted to central New Mexico, then the western section around Bandelier received eight inches. Basically, we’ve had rainfall totals in five days that we usually get in a year.

The Southwest Monsoon

Rain in not unusual this time of year in New Mexico. It is part of the Southwest Monsoon, which generally ends around September 30. The monsoons start in northern Mexico, which receives moisture from the air coming in from California coasts and the Gulf of Mexico. The desert vegetation grows with the rainfall, sending moisture back up into the sky through a process called evapotranspiration.

Arizona and New Mexico both reach their peak of parched southern air, and the cooled air from Mexico and hot air in the Southwest pull the moisture north where Arizona and New Mexico wait for their share of the rain.

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The desert comes alive with the Southwest Monsoon. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Around July, the Four Corners where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet is parched. The hot air from the ground rises and creates a trough in the the lower atmosphere. Meanwhile, In Baja, ocean temperatures are hovering around 85 degrees, moderating local temperatures, lower than the desert Southwest, but eventually the imbalance becomes too great.

The winds above 30,000 feet in the Southwest turn around, carrying moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, and surface air over the Gulf of California races north into Arizona and New Mexico filled with rain.

When the moisture-heavy air reaches Arizona and New Mexico it begins to rise, expand, cool. The temperature of the air decreases below dew point. The temperature is so low that the air can no longer hold the moisture and it condenses and falls as rain; the desert comes to life.

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