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An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
 
 

A parade of storms into January stuccoed the west face of the Sandia Mountains with snow highlighted by the late afternoon sun.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

El Niño extending wet weather into 2016

—Bill Diven

Weather spotters kept busy in Placitas in 2015, logging rain and snow, highs and lows, as the year ranked among the hottest and wettest statewide since official recordkeeping began around 1900.

The precipitation erased the moderate-to-extreme drought afflicting 65 percent of the state at the beginning of the year, according to the National Weather Service. The northwest quadrant including Sandoval County ended December as “abnormally dry,” one notch below moderate drought.

Averaging data from monitoring stations across New Mexico, the weather service calculated just over 19 inches of precipitation for the year, more than five inches above the long-term average. The statewide temperature came in two degrees above the average 53 degrees. Both results ranked fifth highest in the records.

Locally, the three weather spotters in eastern, northeastern, and southeastern Placitas reported precipitation totals of 15.9, 17.6, and 20.79 inches respectively. Placitas averages about 11 inches annually, according to the weather service.

The old year ended and the new one began with a series of storms including a post-Christmas blizzard that shut down much of eastern New Mexico. Highways closed, roofs collapsed, dairy cattle died by the thousands, and two people found dead outdoors may have died from exposure.

Slippery roads led to crashes including one that killed an Idaho man on U.S. Highway 550 near Blanco Trading Post in southeast San Juan County.

Following more snow into mid January, some motorists braved the mountainous, unpaved section State Route 165 only to find themselves stuck in the Cibola National Forest above Placitas. The highway, paved for nine miles from Interstate 25 to the forest boundary, climbs another two thousand feet in seven miles to State Route 536, Sandia Crest Road.

Weather forecasters have been crediting El Niño, warmer-than-average water in the east-central Pacific, for fueling the parade of storms riding the jet stream from the West Coast across the Southwest and into the Midwest. Flooding rains have hit California, Oregon, and the Mississippi River basin along with heavy snows in mountain ranges facing the Pacific.

By mid-January, Sandia Peak Ski area had recorded 102 inches of snow for the season, leaving a base of 38 inches with all 38 runs open. Meanwhile, the National Centers for Environmental Prediction reported its forecast models show average precipitation for most of New Mexico in February with above-average amounts from March through May.


The new “energy efficient” face of Bernalillo High School
Photo credit: —Martin Montaño

Energy efficiency for Bernalillo Schools

—Martin Montaño, Facilities, Safety, and Security Director, Bernalillo Public Schools

The Bernalillo Public School District in cooperation with the New Mexico Public School Facilities Authority (PSFA) is working toward meeting Energy Efficiency Standards for Public Buildings as stipulated in Section 15-3-36, NMSA 1978 (SB200-2010). This is inclusive of construction projects, including additions over three thousand gross square feet and renovations that affect Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC), lighting systems and roof and exterior envelopes of schools. The District’s newest school, Bernalillo High School, falls into this category through its design and construction.

To be in compliance with the law, the Design Professional on the new Bernalillo High School through agreements between the District and PSFA (co-owners) generated several documents that are recorded in PSFA’s Construction Information Management System. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR  program is also utilized to verify energy efficiency to ultimately save money and protect our climate. The ENERGY STAR program was established in 1992 under the authority of the Clean Air Act Section 103(g). Very much in the same manner products and appliances are rated, the efficiency of a building is also measured and rated. It is the Design Professional’s responsibility to ensure the project is designed and constructed to qualify for ENERGY STAR rating.

As a requirement of the ENERGY STAR program, the District, PSFA, and the Design Professional, upon completion of the project and after occupancy must track energy use through Portfolio Manager, an online tool that scores efficiency. It is only after one year of utility data entry, usage tracking, and achieving a score of 75 or higher that the District will be considered for ENERGY STAR rating. We have begun the process of tracking utility data and usage on the new BHS. This will be the first school in the District and in the State of New Mexico that will be ENERGY STAR rated and qualify to receive the ENERGY STAR plaque in accordance with the rules and procedures of the program. We will be pursuing the same rating for the New Santo Domingo Elementary/Middle School currently under construction.

Superintendent Allan Tapia wishes to thank the Public School Facilities Authority for all their efforts in making the BPS facilities efficient and effective places for our children to learn.


Combating climate change in Placitas

—Michael Crofoot

They say that the only people who predict the weather are fools or greenhorns. But the recent Global Climate Change conference in Paris tells us at least one thing: climate change is happening big time now and will keep on happening until we can lower the concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere. Is all this a big deal in Placitas? You bet.

A recent study titled Multi-scale predictions of massive conifer mortality due to chronic temperature rise led by Los Alamos National Laboratories scientist Dr. Nate McDowell has determined that if global warming continues unchecked at its current projected pace, we could see nearly all needleleaf evergreen trees die in the Southwest U.S. within the next hundred years—all of our forests dead.

The University of Delaware published its December 20 study, a product of five years of field research, four highly evolved computer modeling protocols and concentrated regional environmental analysis, in the international journal Nature Climate Change. The study projects a “72 percent loss of needleleaf evergreens by 2050,” just 35 years from now and “almost one hundred percent by 2100,” due to climate change. This refers expressly to woodlands like our own beloved pinyon trees and junipers here in Placitas.

The field results in support of the report come from experiments in a pinyon-and-juniper woodland very much like ours around Placitas, this one down in the Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research project at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico.

Though we think of the Southwest as dry—and it is dry—its development and population took off during a period in the twentieth century when it enjoyed perhaps its wettest weather in hundreds of years. This time of relatively plentiful water in the Southwest has now drawn to a close. It’s going to be drier, probably very much drier and hotter in the immediate and long-term future ahead. The New Mexico Weather Service says that the 24 months preceding our recent wet spell were the driest and warmest since the 1880s, outdoing even the famously destructive drought of the middle 1950s.

Global temperatures in 2014 were the hottest on record since the 1850s, according to four independent groups. Now scientists are saying that this last year, 2015, has become the warmest on record. The chances of the two warmest years in recorded global weather history coming one after another are very remote and the fact that temperatures will most likely to go on rising for a good while longer and the Southwest becoming very much drier are about as certain as Placitas having hot, dry, and sunny skies. Get used to it.

Scientists are now saying that the Southwest is entering a dangerous new period of changing climate that will likely be faster than what’s occurred naturally over the last one thousand years. That’s quite a picture, isn’t it?

Before this century ends, the Southwest and Central Plains states are likely to shrivel under a decades-long megadrought worse than those that ended the Ancestral Pueblo civilization a millennium ago. The drying would surpass in severity any of the decades-long “megadroughts” that occurred during the past one thousand years.

It looks like climate change is bringing folks living in the high desert more hot and dry weather, which directly leads to the three biggest causes of catastrophic wildfire in the Southwest—heat, drought, and dead trees. Between 1970 and 2003, warmer and drier conditions increased burned area in western U.S. mid-elevation conifer forests by 650 percent. In 2002, wildfire burned nearly three million acres in the West, roughly equal to the size of Connecticut. More wildfire is projected as climate change continues, including a predicted doubling of burned area in the southern Rockies. The northern Sandias sustained a gigantic and very hot wildfire about 180 years ago that burned up the Las Huertas directly through the village of Placitas and right up to the very top of the north Sandias and it could happen again any time. Winter warming due to climate change has also made the bark beetle outbreaks that kill our pinyon pines worse by allowing more beetles to survive and reproduce that would normally have died in colder weather, so more trees may yet be lost again any time now. The 2000-2003 drought in the Southwest triggered a widespread die-off of forests around the region and then the drought and the bark beetles continued to kill huge numbers of our pinyon pine trees right here around Placitas. Remember? Drive up past the village of Placitas on Route 165 towards the Forest Service land and try to estimate the percentage of standing dead pinyons you see. Everywhere you look you will see at least twenty percent loss of trees and, in some places up there, more than half of the pinyons died in the last year.

We in Placitas are very likely already in the midst of a woodland dieback of profound and dangerous proportions, and yet there are some things that we can do right here where we live to soften the blow, even to respond positively toward a more healthy northern foothill ecology—all in the face of rapid climate change.

Read A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest, by Dr William deBuys. Do your Internet research to discover what others in the Southwest are saying and doing about climate change. And talk with your neighbors, because your neighbors are now more important to you than they ever were before.

 
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