Lack of wet snow on mountains raises concerns

Posted at: 01/23/2013 5:43 PM
Updated at: 01/23/2013 6:17 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

There's not much snow piling up on most of New Mexico's mountain ranges in this drought-stricken winter - and it turns out the snow we do have is the wrong kind.

Did you know there are two kinds of snow? It's not real complicated. There's wet snow and there's dry snow. Guess which kind we're getting.

Right.

There's not much snow in the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque, and what’s there is dry snow. It's the same kind of snow that's dusting most of the mountain ranges around the state.

It takes about ten inches of good wet snow to melt into one inch of water, but the dry snow we're getting? It'll take 15-18 - even 20 inches to melt into that one inch of water.

Meteorologist Brent Wachter monitors the snowpack at the National Weather Service office in Albuquerque.

"We've only had one really wet system and that occurred in mid-December," Wachter said. "Otherwise they've been what we call the drier snows, the colder snows. It's been cold the last two or three weeks, and so that snowpack is cooler but it contains less moisture."

A lousy snowpack in the mountains will lead directly to a lousy spring runoff in New Mexico's rivers. Meteorologists say some of them are likely to run dry before summertime.

Hikers and bikers and bird-watchers are already seeing the effects in the forest along the banks of the Rio Grande in Albuquerque.

"I like to come here to see all the birds and the cranes," said hiker Sylvia Sisneros. "I just feel like in the middle of the city you get this piece of total nature being threatened."

"I'm out here studying birds and the nesting has really dropped off the last couple of summers," said Albuquerque Open Space volunteer Mike Means. "It means it's too dry for insects to support more birds."

Another thing about that dry snow - it blows away and evaporates fast in the dry winds of spring, reducing the runoff even more.

And so it goes in the drought-stricken winter of our discontent - the third consecutive dry winter - when even the sight of a little snow on a mountaintop can't live up to its meager promise.