The power of powder

Weekend storm dumps more than foot of snow

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A weekend of clear skies -- no, a whole season free of storms, clouds and snow -- finally gave way to winter Saturday night (Jan. 20). By the time folks in Northern New Mexico woke up on Sunday, the whole county was blanketed in snow as if the heavens finally tweeted back to everyone's imploring: #prayforsnow.

The welcomed snowstorm continued throughout much of the daylight hours Sunday and reports to weather monitors Monday showed that some areas in this part of the state received over one foot of snow thanks to the storm.

All three Taos County Ski areas -- Sipapu, Red River and Taos Ski Valley -- reported getting a total of 14 fresh inches of snow over the weekend. Angel Fire Resort in neighboring Colfax County reported 8 inches of fresh powder over the past two days.

Until this weekend, the ski resorts in the area have relied on manufactured snow to open only a handful of runs. Making snow is an involved process, requiring freezing temperatures, millions of gallons of water (Red River uses about 1 million gallons for each night of snowmaking) and through-the-night dedication of a team of snowmakers.

As of Tuesday, (Jan. 23) Taos Ski Valley had nine of 14 lifts open, Red River had six of seven lifts open and Sipapu had four of five lifts open. Angel Fire was operating six of seven ski lifts.

Outside of the ski areas, the winter storm had the greatest impact on the northern part of the county, according to self-reported data available on the National Weather Service website.

An area about 11 miles east of Amalia, located near the New Mexico-Colorado border, received 10 inches of snow from the storm. Questa averaged 8 inches, Arroyo Seco saw 8.9 inches and Los Cordovas (south of Taos) had about 4 inches of snow following the storm. Carson and Tres Ritos (east of Sipapu) had just 3 inches.

Communities south of Taos County, including Velarde, Alcalde and Española, saw only about 1 inch of snow.

The snowless winter was not unexpected as La Niña, a weather pattern that developed over the Pacific Ocean late last summer and early fall, tends to leave New Mexico warm and dry. That, combined with the decades-long trend of warming, conspired to make for a poor ski season in the winter and could mean an equally poor agricultural season in the coming months.

Though the snowstorm added to the dismal snowpack in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (the measurement generally used to predict the amount to water available to irrigators and municipal water managers), it's still pretty disheartening. At the first of the year, the snowpack in the entire Río Grande basin was at only 9 percent of normal, based on a 30-year time frame. On Friday, the snowpack in the Sangres stood at 24 percent of normal. After the storm, the basin was at 34 percent of normal.

Almost all of the weekend moisture in the state fell on the western slopes of New Mexico's central mountain chain. While areas like Taos County -- and the Jemez Mountains, where 17 inches of snow was reported -- saw the benefits of the storm, southern New Mexico actually lost water in the form of snowpack due to heavy winds that ripped through other parts of the state.

As of publication Thursday (Jan. 25), no snowstorms are expected to hit New Mexico within the next week or so. In fact, the National Weather Service noted weather conditions could be opportune for wildfires in the eastern half of the state.

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