New Mexico Storms, August 20-23

by John Farley

After several days of unusually hot, dry weather in what is usually the Southwest Monsoon season, some monsoon moisture returned to New Mexico August 20 and 21. Both days, strong storms developed over the Sangre de Cristo Mounatins east/northeast of Santa Fe and drifted slowly to the south and southeast, gradually growing upscale into larger complexes of storms east of the mountains and southward toward the central part of the state. Other storms also formed over the Jemez Mountains near Los Alamos both days, and on the 21st, storms also formed in the Rio Grande Valley on outflow from the mountain storms, including in the Santa Fe area. These storms provided some much-needed rainfall in a lackluster monsoon year, along with some good storm and lightning photo ops. A few high-bsed storms also occurred in the 22nd, including one that produced more rain in Santa Fe. Dry air was forecast to move in for the weekend beginning on the 23rd, but a weather system passing to the north provided just enough kick to get storms going again, including a 7-minute barrage of mostly pea-sized hail in Santa Fe, but with a few larger stones up to about a half inch.

August 20

The afternoon of the 20th, I headed east to Rowe, NM, along I-25 between Santa Fe and Las Vegas, NM in hopes of some lightning photos with what had been a strong storm over the upper Pecos River valley near Terrero, where the storm produced torrential rain and nickle-sized hail. But by the time I caught up with it, the storm was weaker, multicellular, and in gerneral poorly organized, without much lightning. After a brief unsuccessful try for lightning on a new cell near Glorietta, I was about to head back to Santa Fe when I noticed on radar that new storms were going up near route 285 between Santa Fe and Clines Corners, so I headed down 285 to check them out. Near Lamy, I caught this nice display of mammatus from these storms:

I then continued SE on route 285 for another 10-15 miles to get closer to the storms and try again for lightning photos. This time my luck was better, as you can see with this picture:

Gradually the storms pushed away to the SE, and by around 4:30 the show was over.

August 21

This would be the day with the best moisture and likely most widespread storms of the week, and by mid-day storms were already going up over the mountains. I headed out a little before 1:00 p.m. with decent storms under way over both the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I stopped at the southeast edge of Santa Fe in a spot with good views of both groups of storms, and noticed looking toward the storms over the Jemez Mountains that there was also a large dust devil near the western edge of Santa Fe, probably just north of the Santa Fe airport. Here is a picture of the dust devil with the Jemez Mountain storms behind it:

Although they both show up in the picture, the storms and the dust devil were unrelated, except in the general way that the steep lapse rates that were present were contributing to both. The dust devil was likely about 10 miles to my NW and the storms a good 30 miles to my NW, so the dust devil and the storms were a good 20 miles apart. Still, it was nice to be able to get them both in the same picture. And this would not be the last whirlwind I would see today!

Following this, I made another stop in Eldorado to photograph the storms over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This is looking northeast, toward storms that were in the mountains northeast of Pecos:

From here, I continued on to Pecos, but similarly to the previous day, the storms became weaker, multicellular, and were moving away. I decided to backtrack to Eldorado, and again decided to head south from there on 285 like the previous day. The storms were farther east today, but backbuilding to the SW and I could see towering cumulus going up in various places that were probably close to the road. The first of these to become a storm was west of the highway, and my attempts at lightning photography on it were futile. I realized I was stopped at the exact same place I had been the previous day. Eventually it became evident that new storms were going up directly over my head, filling the gap between the initial storm and ones to the east, so I moved back north a little to get out from under and to have a good view of any potential lightning. This time, the show was better than the previous day, with most of the CG lightning 2-3 miles to my south. With the Lightning Trigger, I managed to catch a number of bolts:

I don't often convert my lightning photos to black and white, but I think it works for this one:

I also got this:

The feature in the right center of this picture made for an interesting photo, but all that it was is a scud column aligned almost perfectly with a narrow rain shaft.

By around 3:30, the amount of CG lightning had sharply decreased, so I started back to Santa Fe. Driving back north, I could see that new storms had gone up over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains again, but this time closer to Eldorado, to its north or NNE and east of Santa Fe. As I neared the outflow from these storms, I noticed a good-sized dust swirl a mile or to to my northwest, likely in the northern part of Eldorado or near I-25. Since this formed under the storm clouds and along the leading edge of the outflow that was surging to the SW from the storm, I would say that it was likely a gustnado, not a dust devil like the one I saw earlier. I was hoping to get close enough to it to get some video with my phone, but as is typical of gustnadoes it dissipated quickly, within a minute or two of when I had first seen it. Still, quite a surprise to see that, even though I did not get video of it. The time of the gustnado would have been around 3:40 or 3:45 Then later, around 5:00, while my wife and I were having dinner in a Santa Fe restaurant, a brief barrage of small hail occurred as a new storm went up right over Santa Fe, likely on outflow from the earlier storms. After that, thundershowers continued intermittently in Santa Fe until around 8 p.m., producing widely varying amounts of rain in different parts of town, ranging from 0.1" or less in some parts of town to as much as 0.7" in others. All in all, a pretty interesting weather day.

August 22

By this day, dryer air was moving from the northwest, again pushing the monsoon moisture southeastward away from northern and western New Mexico. But there was just enough to get a fw high-bsed storms going, again initiating over the mountains as in the past two days. In this picture, much of the precipitation from the storms was evaporating before reaching the ground (virga), except in the mountains where quite a bit was making it to the ground. But despite the lack of strong storms, it still made for a pretty picture:

An hour or so after this picture was taken, the broken line of showers and thunderstorms reached Santa Fe, and like the previous night, a heavier storm popped up right over the city, resulting in a short burst of heavy rain and a little small hail.

August 23

As noted above, dry air was expected to largely end the storms by now, but a weather system passing to the north of New Mexico was just enough to trigger another round of storms in the Santa Fe area as well as other pasts of NM. A strong storm developed over Santa Fe between 2 and 3 p.m., producing hail for a minute or so around 2:30 and again for seven minutes beginning at 2:35. In the second wave of hail, a few of the stones were as large as 1/2" in diameter, though most were pea-sized (1/4 to 1/3"). Here is some video I got of the hail from my car:

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