ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The conditions proved to be just right this year in New Mexico for a wave of severe weather that prompted double the average number of warnings issued by forecasters in a typical year, but the flurry of activity seems to have come to a screeching halt.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque said Thursday that much of the state is in for more warm, dry weather and that the New Mexico’s most populous region is on track to mark the warmest November on record.
“It’s been awfully quiet lately,” said meteorologist Kerry Jones.
That’s much different than what Jones and his colleagues saw earlier this year as the ingredients needed to make for severe weather lined up to create a seemingly endless series of storms.
The most active period followed the monsoon season, with storms stretching into September and October.
In all, 501 severe thunderstorm warnings have been issued across a large portion of New Mexico this year. That’s more than double the average over the last several years and significantly more than the last notable year in 2015, when 376 warnings were issued.
Forecasters also have put out 64 flash flood warnings and 35 tornado warnings. The average number for tornado warnings in recent years has been 11, Jones said.
There are specific definitions that forecasters need to consider when it comes to classifying something as a severe storm. That includes hail at least the size of a quarter and winds around 58 mph, or 50 knots.
Masses of cold air — or what forecasters call back-door cold fronts — slide into New Mexico from the east or northeast and are topped by fast moving winds from the northwest to create a churning system. That rotation along with the right amount of moisture often results in severe thunderstorms.
“That setup, that overall pattern was pretty prevalent,” Jones said. “In September and October, we would go three, four days in a row with that setup.”
The typical severe weather season in New Mexican can stretch from March to May and sometimes into June.
On May 9, the radar lit up for about two hours as a swath of severe weather developed over a 200-mile stretch between Santa Fe and Carrizozo. There were reports of tornados, heavy rain, golf ball-sized hail and uprooted trees.
In August, a severe thunderstorm left behind tennis ball-sized hail in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
The continuous buzz of activity in the weather service operations center has now shifted from tracking fast-moving blips on the radar to monitoring temperatures.
The Albuquerque area just recently marked its first freeze of the season, making for the third-latest freeze on record. In Gallup, residents on Wednesday saw a high temperature of 68 to beat out the old record set in 2002.