The 2021-22 winter storm brought the first major snowstorm. But it arrived late this year. It finally arrived in Northern New Mexico at New Year’s Eve. It dropped several inches to a few feet depending on the elevation. This dramatically altered the picture of how snowpack levels could look this year.
According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service National Water and Climate Center data, precipitation levels increased more than twice in Taos County between mid-December and Tuesday (Jan.18). It rose from approximately 5 inches on Dec. 19, to 11.6 inches as at Jan. 18.
The United States Department of Agriculture data shows that Sangre de Cristos has between 65 and 82 percent of its expected snowpack for a typical season. It varies by location. The lower spine of Santa Fe’s mountain range sees a minimum of 69 percent while the area around Cimarron is at 65 percent. Taos, on the other hand, has the highest snowpack at 82 percent.
Taos Ski Valley reported a base of 38 inches of snow and 54 inches in “packed powder” on January 18. Nearly all its lifts are accessible, with the exception of two and 76 runs.
Despite the sudden shift in snowpack levels from unusually dry and snowy, historical snowpack studies don’t bode well either for the future of snowpack in the Western United States, or for the ski resorts dependent on it for their continued success.
A November 2021 study titled “A low to no snow future and it’s impacts on water resources west of the United States” found that snow water equivalents would decline by 25 percent by 2050 largely due to continued greenhouse gas emissions. The study relied on information already known: snowpack has dropped by 20% in the Western U.S. since 1950.
The consequences of this decline and the ongoing reduction in snowpack for future predict more serious consequences than resorts suffering, or recreationalists missing out their favorite winter activities.
According to the study, “Diminished and less ephemeral Snowpacks that melt earlier will alter groundwater flow dynamics” “The direction of these changes is difficult to predict given the competing factors like higher evapotranspiration and altered vegetation composition, as well as changes in wildfire behavior in a warmer environment.
New Mexico has experienced drought conditions for approximately 20 years. This is why the Roosevelt Soil and Water Conservation District, in Southeast New Mexico, introduced a cloud-seeding operation last year. Despite evidence showing that cloud seeding can increase precipitation levels, the application submitted by Western Weather Consultants, Durango, Colorado was withdrawn in November. This was due to strong opposition from those who believe cloud seeding could be harmful to the environment or public health.
Taos County was forecast to see more snow this week. There was a 40 percent chance for precipitation on Wednesday (Jan. 19,) and a 50 percent chance on Friday (Jan. 21,).