Meteorologists warn about flood risk intensifying over the weekend due to wildfires

By: - June 17, 2022 5:22 pm

An acequia moves in Mora County toward Morphy Lake. Heavy rains are a concern for residents as water lines like this could flood and bring debris from the fires down stream. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)

Monsoon season already causes concerns for a potential risk for flooding in New Mexico, but the enormous wildfires roaring across the state have created rough soil conditions that increase the risk of flooding, according to meteorologists.

Wednesday kicked off the monsoon season in New Mexico, where a shift in wind direction created potential for thunderstorms. Thunderstorms with higher chances of precipitation started on Friday as a result of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California coming up and combining with afternoon summer heat, said Andrew Gorelow, National Weather Service incident meteorologist working on the Hermits Peak – Calf Canyon fire.

Anyone in Mora County or San Miguel County can call the New Mexico Resource Hotline Number if they know they will need assistance to evacuate:


For immediate evacuation assistance, call 911

Rain falls quickly from these thunderstorms, said Gary Zell, National Weather Service incident meteorologist working on the Black fire. This commonly leads to floods because soil in New Mexico doesn’t soak up water as well as it does in the east, both Zell and Gorelow noted.

This effect is worse on burn scars or areas where wildfire has burned through all the vegetation, Gorelow said.

He said highly damaged soil can’t retain water and instead acts like cement, which leads to fast-moving runoff.

Scott Overpeck, National Weather Service meteorologist, said just one storm can cause destruction.

“The weather doesn’t really pay attention to the calendar. It doesn’t care where these burn scars are,” Overpeck said June 17 at a state wildfire and flooding update. “It just takes one storm.”

Grasses sprout in fresh burn scars as residents get their bearings

This weekend and early next week will bring moisture and potential flash flooding to a lot of areas in the state, including the Hermits Peak – Calf Canyon fires and the Black Fire, Gorelow and Zell said.

The state set up infrastructure to protect from flash floods earlier in June. Flood prevention efforts on private land in Colfax, Mora, San Miguel and Lincoln counties will be covered by the federal government, according to KOB. People should understand their evacuation procedures, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said at the update on Friday.

“We will do everything in our power to keep you safe, and to do everything we can to create security, stability and sustainability,” Lujan Grisham said.

Over 50% of deaths from flash floods result from people driving through flooded washes, Zell said. Gorelow noted that water runoff can also take debris like ash, rocks, and dead logs and trees down mountains.

Gorelow advised people to stay updated with the weather. Because many people in northern New Mexico don’t have cell service, the radio station 540 KNMX AM is broadcasting emergency alerts, as well as fire briefings, twice a day.

“Be prepared,” Gorelow said. “We’re heading into a very wet period for the next few days.”

Active shelters include:

Bernalillo Shelter Trailer on site of Baptist Church Grounds (Jemez Springs)
Genoveva Chavez Community Center (Santa Fe)
Glorieta Cam
Juan Gonzales Agriculture Center (Taos)
Old Memorial Middle School (Las Vegas)
Peñasco High School Gym
Raton Community Center
Red River Conference Center
Santa Rosa Convention Center
Taos County Sheriff’s Posse Arena

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Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.