Monsoon Season: Rockhounds Be Weather Aware

Its June and here in New Mexico, that means it’s about time for our annual monsoon season. Starting in mid to late June, and running until early September, the monsoons bring most of our annual precipitation. And while the rains are a blessing and a necessity, they can also wreak havoc with hail, wind, and flash flooding. It’s especially important to be weather aware this time of year.

Monsoon season flash flooding is one the the primary dangers to rockhounds. Often we are treading the creek bottoms with our eyes out for the shiny prizes. In much of New Mexico the terrain is rough and can carry large amounts of water long distances quickly.

Flash Floods in Burn Scar Areas

In 2022 and for many years beyond, flash flood dangers will be further aggravated by the extreme wildfires that burned across our state. We recently had a fire upstream from us. Our creek is generally dry, but heavy rains anywhere between here and the head 40 miles away can cause it to run violently moving boulders, and ripping cottonwood trees out by the roots in normal years.

Mud crack fossil moved by monsoon season flash floods.
This mud crack fossil has moved a few hundred feet downstream from its origin.

The recent fire was just a few miles upstream, but in a heavily wooded canyon. Burnt soil often becomes hydrophobic (repels water) and washes away in heavy rains. Burned timber, ash, and other debris can cause logjams that further aggravate flash flooding.

Large portions of New Mexico’s mountainous watersheds have burned the last few years, and especially in the record fire season of 2022. This is a long term problem for New Mexico.

Weather Aware Tips for the Monsoon Season

Here are some tips to help you stay safe from flash flood hazards during your summer rockhounding trips.

  • Check the forecast for the day for the area your going, and for the areas upstream that may get storms.
  • Storms in most of New Mexico fire off in the late morning or afternoon. Plan your trips accordingly. Go early if you can.
  • Remember a storm many miles away can cause flash flooding in your area, especially if your in a canyon or mountains that impedes a view of the horizon.
  • Consider carrying a NOAA weather radio in your pack as there are just a few holes in data and phone service in New Mexico.
  • Watch for clouds and any rain, but especially downpours that may cause flooding.
  • Get to high ground immediately at the first signs of rain.
  • Let somebody know where you plan to be. If you are on public land talk to a ranger or park official and let them know your plans especially if you plan to go way back country.
  • Be aware of rushing water or flooded areas in canyons. Get to high ground if necessary.
  • Never Attempt to Outrun Flood Waters!! Get to high ground which is most often perpendicular to the stream.
  • If in doubt do not cross. You’ll be alive, and the water will uncover some new pretties to hound at a drier time.

Start planning your Willett Creek Agate Co. rockhounding trip by contacting me here.

Additional Reading:

2022 Monsoon OutlookAlbuquerque Weather Forecast Office

2023 Spring Outlook – Albuquerque Weather Forecast Office

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