LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - The United States Drought Monitor shows the entire state is under some level of drought. As of May 4, 2022, 98.9% of the state is under a moderate drought, 95.8% of the state is under a severe drought, 68% is under an extreme drought, and 15.7% of the state is under exceptional drought conditions.
Each of those categorizations has different meanings and implications for what should be done to help combat the drought - but this is nothing new. According to the New Mexico State Climatologist Dave DuBois, the state of New Mexico has been in a drought since 1999.
"We've had some reprieves with some decent monsoons here and there, but overall we are in a long-term drought. Some of my climatologist colleagues have called this a 'mega-drought' because of its severity and [because] it's [been ongoing for] multi-decades," DuBois shared.
There are many concerns when drought conditions are rampant, but two main problems that humankind feels are an impact on our water conservation and the risk of wildfires. During the spring- which is the period when most of the arid-desert southwest experiences the driest weather out of the year- wildfires are a considerable risk. With the right westerly wind conditions, fuel starters on the forest or desert floors, and no rain in sight for perhaps weeks to come, all the ground needs is a spark, which could lead to massive wildfires.
"We already have some pretty severe fires up in northern New Mexico. We haven't had fires on those scales in quite a while...we are hoping we don't see those same kinds of years where we've had record fires up in the Gila," said DuBois. He added that so far, the winds have been a bit more severe in northern NM than in our region thus far.
On the other hand, we live in a desert where water resources are scarce. In years when the Monsoon is not as productive, lakes and rivers may run dry, which is a huge issue for farmers and for drinking water too. DuBois shared that water conservation "should be an automatic living in the desert." That means planting native plants, checking for leaks, turning the water off when you brush your teeth, and minimize shower and sink washing times.
DuBois and fellow scientists have been researching what could happen if the region continues to deal with these extremely dry conditions for the years to come.
"One of the things we've been concerned about is the aridification- the continued aridification of the desert southwest- and actually, even more, the higher elevations as well- what that means is bigger fires popping up," he added.
The next question is, what conditions will lead to the end of this so-called 'mega-drought'?
"Even if we get a well above average Monsoon, we are still going to struggle. We are in some of the worst categories of drought. It's going to take several years, and more than just one season [to do it]. So we need not only a good summer but a good winter as well, and actually several of those," DuBois said.