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NMSU Climatologist Sees No Immediate End to Drought

By Charlie McKee

Climatologist David DuBois, PhD, of New Mexico State University had no good news for his Silver City audience regarding the drought conditions currently affecting the southwestern United States.  In aligning current climactic conditions with historic global weather patterns over time, DuBois indicated that the drought being experienced in New Mexico and the southwestern region could be the beginning of a long-term (5-to-20 year) drought and high heat pattern.  

The public forum featuring DuBois was held Tuesday evening, Feb. 19, at WNMU's Global Resource Center auditorium and was the first of what is to be three such forums presented by the Town of Silver City's Office of Sustainability. The Office Director, Nick Sussillo, explained to the audience during his introduction of DuBois that these forums would provide a basis for research and interviews with the public to support the Office's preparation of its Sustainability Plan 2030.  While this forum specifically addressed climate conditions in the local region, the future forums will address the following topics:
•    April 10 – Public Health
•    May 8 – Economic Resiliency

The purpose of the Sustainability Plan 2030, according to Sussillo, is three-pronged: to reduce vulnerability, build capability, and save money of the citizens of Silver City and Grant County through strengthening the local community, environment, and economy.  The 25-member task force developing the plan is a collaboration of local public and private sector members and will focus on such threats as fire, grid failure, higher food costs, and pulmonary risk that are viewed as potential risks for the local geographic area over the next few decades due to climactic trends.

DuBois's presentation focused on the current conditions in Climate Division 4 (CD4), a geographic area of similar weather encompassing mostly mountainous terrain with Silver City, NM at its southernmost tip and Grants, NM at its northernmost.  In various graphical displays, DuBois demonstrated that 2012 was extreme and stands out uniquely in CD4 as both the warmest and driest year by considerable margin since 1895.  In addition, the study of "streamflow," which includes snowpack and reservoir measurements, shows that New Mexico's snow levels and water reserves are dangerously low.

DuBois explained that his prediction that the current drought conditions will continue for some time is based upon a specific climate pattern, which indicates that CD4 is at the beinning of a very dry period.  The pattern is comprised of a neutral period between El Niño and La Niña and a negative Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation, a combination, which has shown in the past to result in extended drought.

DuBois urged the audience to participate in climate observation in our area, stating that cuts in federal funding have resulted in the necessity for volunteer citizens to become the weather observers of the future.  (These cuts include the termination of continuous weather observation and recording at Fort Bayard from 1877 to 2012.)  He encouraged participation in the Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHs) organization through which it is easy and inexpensive to become part of a North American volunteer weather reporting force.  Additional information is available on the following websites:  www.cocorahs.org; www.southernclimate.org; www.climas.arizona.edu; and www.weather.nmsu.edu. 

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