New Mexico Climate and Weather

Weather patterns in New Mexico differ in important ways from those in other states. For example, many hikers assume that because the state has an arid climate, rain isn’t a consideration. Not only does it rain, but often does so with a ferocity seldom experienced elsewhere. The wettest months are July, August and early September. This New Mexico’s so-called “Monsoon Season”, when moisture laden tropical air triggers frequent, and sometimes violent, afternoon thunderstorms. Lightning associated with these makes summits and ridges especially dangerous, and flash flooding makes camping in dry watercourses unwise. In the high mountains, monsoon thunderstorms and associated lightning can occur every day, so hikers hoping to climb peaks or ridges during the monsoon season should plan to be off them by noon. By mid-September, the monsoon pattern usually has weakened substantially; by late September and October, the weather is glorious—bright, sunny days with clear turquoise skies, and cool (but not bone chilling) nights.

By November, higher elevations and the state’s northern sections become vulnerable to winter storms. Barring storms, winter can offer some surprisingly good hiking, especially in the state’s southern part. Snow rarely lingers, and because the general humidity is low, chilly nights soon meld into bright, warm days.

April, May, June and early July typically are dry. New Mexico also has a windy season, typically from late March to early April, when strong westerlies scour the state with dust and grit. Not the most pleasant hiking conditions especially in open, exposed areas.

Just remember, New Mexico experiences great variation in precipitation, and not just from season to season but from year to year. The winter of 1998-1999 was one of New Mexico’s driest ever, with almost no precipitation after November. Dry winters mean that some high elevation areas, normally snowbound, are open for hiking much earlier than usual. But severe drought also means that marginal water sources, such as springs and intermittent streams, will eventually run dry. Even worse, summer thunderstorms ignite forest fires throughout the state, and tinderbox conditions force forest managers to restrict public access.

Yet the winter of 1997-1998 in New Mexico was one of the wettest on record; deep snow pack made high mountain areas impassable far later than usual, water was everywhere, and the state burst into a verdant garden. The year before that was another drought. In planning your hike, it’s essential that you contact local land managers for current conditions.

Here is some climatological information for New Mexico towns on or near the CDT, south to north: