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Wildfire potential ‘above normal’ through much of N.M.’s central mountains

The Black Fire, pictured, began two years ago on May 13 and grew into the state’s second-biggest fire. Forecasters warn New Mexico will see above normal wildfire risk through June and July. Public domain photo via the National Wildfire Coordinating Group
Forecasters cite drought and potential La Niña conditions

Forecasters with the National Interagency Fire Center are expecting wildfire risk to be above normal for much of the state this summer, citing ongoing drought and a potential transition this summer from El Niño to La Niña conditions.

Significant wildfires are burning in Mexico and Canada. Several small fires have started and burned so far this year in New Mexico, though fire activity is far less active than this time two years ago.

Two years ago on May 13, the Black Fire started in the Gila Wilderness before going on to become the second-biggest wildfire in New Mexico history. The biggest-ever state fire, the Hermits-Peak Calf Canyon Fire, also started two years ago in April.

A forecast released earlier this month shows fire risk to steadily increase throughout July, with New Mexico the potential hot spot throughout the Southwest for wildfires.

The elevated fire risk will cover much of New Mexico’s central mountain chain by June and then increase across most of the state by July, according to risk maps produced by the National Interagency Fire Center.

Forecasters there said drought conditions in New Mexico are expected to persist at least through the end of July, which heightens the risk. Another factor is that April precipitation varied between 0% and 70% of normal across the state, according to the forecast.

One wild card that could make conditions in New Mexico even more ripe for wildfire is a potential transition from El Niño to La Niña later this summer, which would mean a higher likelihood of warmer, drier weather patterns across the Southwest.

Forecasters with the Climate Prediction Center say there’s a 60% chance of La Niña being in full-swing between June and August this summer.

Researchers found a history of cooler temperatures and more precipitation in seasons where the transition between El Niño and La Niña occurred, especially in the northwestern part of the Southwest.

That finding could mean some areas of the Southwest – excluding the central mountains of New Mexico and southern deserts of Arizona – are at normal fire risk throughout the summer, according to the forecast.

New Mexico will see above-normal wildfire risk this summer, potentially becoming the Southwest’s hot spot, according to forecasts from the National Interagency Fire Center. Screenshot courtesy NIFC

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