These Natural Disasters Can Occur in New Mexico! Are You Prepared?

Natural disasters in New Mexico

New Mexico is one of the four corner states that also shares a border with Mexico. Even though they’re close in proximity, you should never confuse a New Mexican with a Mexican. The people, culture, and traditions are vastly different.

As per its constitution, New Mexico is officially a bilingual state. Even though English and Spanish are widely spoken, their culture, cuisine, and architecture are a unique blend of Hispanic and Native American.

New Mexicans enjoy living their lives in solitude, hiking in the remote wilderness, soaking in natural hot springs, and driving on roads that lead to the middle of nowhere. It’s the 5th largest state in acreage but 36th largest in human population— the cattle and sheep population outnumber the people.

The state is nicknamed The Land of Enchantment for good reason— its diverse landscapes will leave you in awe. As the hot air balloon capital of America, you’re not limited to seeing the scenery from just viewpoints along mountain tops or the road, but you have the opportunity to witness the vastness of the state from the sky too!

Life in New Mexico is easy-going and the residents take advantage of all types of outdoor adventures. During snow days, some may call in sick to go skiing, while others will practice the sport of snow shovel racing (yup, believe it or not, that’s a thing!)

The people of New Mexico are extremely resilient and are always ready for anything— after all, they live in a microclimate where the weather can (and will) change dramatically at a moment’s notice.

What natural disasters does New Mexico have?

New Mexico’s most common natural disasters include wildfires, floods, severe storms, extreme heat and drought, landslides, winter storms, tornadoes, and power outages. Other less significant disasters include remnants of tropical storms and earthquakes.

Between 1953 and 2019, New Mexico declared 86 major disasters, of which fires and floods happened the most according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

1. Wildfires

New Mexico is very susceptible to wildfires. They are primarily caused by human negligence, arson, and the weather (i.e. lightning). The intensity of the fires are fueled by strong winds and drought conditions.

The Land of Enchantment experiences approximately 1,500 wildfires per year which burn between 300,000 and 400,000 acres.

One of the most significant fires in recent years was the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire which began on June 14th, 2012. It was caused by two lightning strikes and it burned through 289,478 acres of dry forest and brush over a period of six weeks.

During the writing of this article, New Mexico is experiencing its largest fire to date. The Calf Canyon fire and Hermits Peak fires began in early April 2022 as prescribed fires.

Due to high winds, they grew beyond the prescribed fire lines and got out of control, then merged. Despite the slurries of red fire retardant, these large fires have burned a combined 312,000 acres...and counting!

New Mexico State Forestry officials have been warning the population about the possibility of a year-round wildfire season, as opposed to August through November like it used to be years ago. An estimated 70% of New Mexicans (which is over 1.4 million people) are currently living in high wildfire risk areas.

In order to be prepared for a wildfire, you should have a solid evacuation plan in place. Your plan should include a bug-out kit that you can take with you at a moment’s notice, which contains your important documents and other valuable items to help sustain you for a minimum of 72 hours.

To reduce the risk of your home becoming vulnerable to a wildfire, create defensible space between dried shrubs and foliage.

Clean out your gutters every few months, cut overhanging branches, and clear out an area between your home and flammable objects, such as firewood and propane tanks.

Be sure to have an evacuation plan and practice drills with your family members.

Find more tips and a safety checklist on our wildfire preparedness guide!

2. Floods

General flooding and flash flooding are two of the other biggest threats to the state. They possible any time of year in New Mexico but are most prevalent between June and September.

Floods occur during periods of intense localized rain, heavy precipitation, hail, rapid snowmelt, monsoons, overflowing rivers, broken dams and levees, water runoff, and improper drainage.

One of the worst floods in New Mexico’s history occurred in August 2006 when the state received record amounts of precipitation. It resulted in extensive damage that was difficult to assess. Records show at least 91 flash flood events, hundreds of evacuees, 3 fatalities, and over $4 million in damages.

Floods aren’t completely unpredictable but they can occur with little warning. In fact, flash floods can occur in places where it hasn’t even rained.

Being on alert during severe weather, especially heavy rainfall, is key to being prepared for flood events. FEMA offers flood maps where you can determine the level of risk your home has in a future flood.

If your risk is high, I recommend retrofitting your home for preventative purposes. Even a few simple home repairs may benefit you greatly in the long run if a disaster strikes in your community.

To prevent uninsured property losses, consider looking into the National Flood Insurance Program to see which options are available to you.

If the risk is low, you can still take proactive measures to reduce possible damages to your personal property.

In any case, obeying local warnings and following your gut can help you act quickly and get to a safe place before your life becomes endangered. Find flood mitigation ideas and safety tips here!

3. Severe Storms

Severe storms, such as heavy rainfall, thunderstorms, deadly lightning, strong gusty winds, and large hail occur throughout all of the counties in the state. Haboobs, otherwise known as a dust storm, are common in Southern New Mexico.

The threat of severe storms begins in April and lasts through August, particularly affecting Eastern New Mexico. Monsoon season, which affects the entire state equally, begins in July and lasts through August.

Severe storms can quickly turn into flash flood events and/or tornadoes, so it’s important to be prepared for those situations as well.

Many people underestimate the deadly potential of thunder and lightning. It’s fascinating to watch but the fact of the matter is that when you’re in a position where you see it, you’re in a position of getting struck.

Lightning can strike 10 or more miles outside of a stormy area, so even if you feel that you’re far from it, your risk remains. Prevent any physical injury to yourself or a member of your family by taking refuge in a sturdy structure until the storm has passed. 

Read our complete guide on becoming prepared for a severe storm here!

4. Extreme Heat and Drought

Due to its arid and semiarid climate, New Mexico is prone to extreme heat. The hottest temperature in the Land of Enchantment was recorded at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. It reached 122°F on June 24, 1994.

The state receives approximately 20 days of dangerously high temperatures, and an estimated 80,000 New Mexicans are vulnerable to it.

Extreme heat can become deadly. As the body works to cool itself down, the high humidity prevents it from doing so, therefore causing potential heat exhaustion.

The combination of high temperatures and inconsistent precipitation has made the state also prone to droughts. Water is a valuable resource, especially considering that some cities within the state receive less than 10 inches of rain per year.

As of the writing of this article, New Mexico is under a major drought. The statistics from the Drought Monitor show that 53.4% of the state is in tier D4 (exceptional drought), 26.8% is in tier D3 (extreme drought), 19.5% is in tier D2 (severe drought), and the remaining 0.3% is in D1 (moderate drought).

In other words, there is hardly any surface water left for agricultural use, crops die due to the lack of irrigation, livestock and wild animals are suffering, fire danger is extreme, and dust storms occur more often. During periods of drought, it’s crucial to conserve water.

During high heat warnings, you should remain hydrated and be prepared with fans and air conditioning, if possible. The safest place to spend the hottest hours of the day if you're on a budget  are the public library, the mall, or the movie theater where they’re sure to have A/C.

Always consider the option of power outages, since the number of people using electricity during this time might be too much for the power lines to handle. Our extreme heat guide has many more tips to help you stay cool when the temperatures are high.

5. Landslides

New Mexico is threatened by the possibility of landslides, specifically debris flows and rock slides.

Debris flows, a slurry of rocks, mud, ash, and gravel, are common in areas that have been recently burned by wildfires. Every year, the state allocates millions of dollars for debris flow cleanup.

Rockfalls are less common but have known to be deadly. The Rio Grande Gorge (between Taos and Española) along NM 68 is one of the areas at higher risk. Tens of thousands of dollars are allocated annually for post-rockfall cleanup and rebuild.

Landslides cannot be predicted but they can be anticipated. Not only is the weather a huge determining factor, but so is the area where a landslide has previously occurred. Wherever it has happened in the past, it is possible that it will happen again.

If you live in or near a mountainous region, learn the warning signs that precede landslides.

Slight changes in the topography and forward-leaning trees could be indicators that the top layer of the soil may give way at some point, especially after significant periods of precipitation, earthquakes, or manmade construction projects where the soil is moved from hillsides or slopes.

Read our complete guide on landslide preparedness here.

6. Winter Storms

Even though New Mexico is partly covered in a desert land, some of the mountain regions receive significant amounts of snow. The 8 major ski resorts throughout the state are indicators that snowfall and winter storms are a yearly occurrence.

Northern New Mexico receives the greater bulk of the snow and is home to the mountain town of Red River, aka New Mexico’s snowiest spot. Red River averages more than 12 feet of snow annually!

As we know, snowstorms and blizzards can be dangerous and even deadly. The deadliest natural disaster in the Land of Enchantment occurred in December 1967. The entire state was covered in five feet of snow (or more in some areas) and it left people stranded in their homes. There were 51 fatalities.

Even though severe winter storms don’t happen too often, it’s important to be prepared because it’s bound to occur sometime.

If you commute often, it’s necessary to have an emergency kit in your vehicle with all the supplies you would need to stay warm, hydrated, fed, and protected.

In this article, we discuss everything we recommend you to have. In this guide, you can learn how to prepare your home and stay safe during winter storms.

7. Power Outages

Our electrical systems are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, so it’s imperative that one must be prepared.

In 2016, over 128,000 people in Albuquerque were left in complete darkness after a lightning strike hit one of the substations of PNM. Stores and gas stations were forced to close and people had to wait for several hours for the electric company to restore their power. It was one of the worst outages that the state had experienced in years.

Almost everything we do and every device we use revolves around electricity. We have become so dependent that we need to train ourselves to live without it for some time.

One of the best ways to prepare for a power outage is by doing a real-life simulation. In other words, shut off your electricity for a day or two and use whichever supplies you have at home to survive for the time being.

This will give you insight as to what will and won’t work in your home, and highlight important parts of your preparedness plan that need to be adjusted. Learn some power outage tips on our guide!

8. Tornadoes

Because of the arid climate and mountainous topography, tornados are rare in New Mexico. Generally, the state averages 11 tornadoes per year, but more often than not, they’re short and weak. Strong tornados are possible once every few years.

Small land spouts are also common. Land spouts are similar to tornados, except they’re formed by dust.

The deadliest tornado in New Mexico’s history occurred on March 23, 2007. The F2 (120 mph) tornado traveled for 36 minutes and caused 33 injuries and 2 fatalities.

The strongest tornado in the state’s recorded history was an EF 3 tornado that occurred on May 29, 1964. It caused widespread damage, injured 8 people, and killed 1.

When a tornado develops, there's no way of knowing its strength nor its exact path or direction. When there is a tornado warning, find shelter immediately-- preferably in the interior room of a sturdy building with no exterior windows, such as a bedroom closet.

You will oftentimes receive a notification on your phone if there's a tornado nearby, but in case you don't, know what to look out for by the characteristics you can observe in the cloud formations. Check out this guide to learn how you can prepare for a tornado.

9. Tropical Storms

Hurricanes have never hit New Mexico directly, but tropical storm remnants have. The greatest risk that comes with tropical storms is heavy rains which can cause flooding.

Luckily, thanks to weather technology, most tropical storms are predicted days in advance thereby giving us time to gather our emergency kits and evacuate if necessary. Learn which items you should take with you on an evacuation and how to mitigate property damage from the storm in this guide.

10. Earthquakes

The earthquakes that occur in New Mexico are generally of low magnitude and are rarely strong enough to cause damage. In any case, it would be wise to know where would be safe places to take cover if you experience a light shaker.

11. Volcanoes

According to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, “New Mexico has the largest number, range of ages, diversity of types, and range of preservation of volcanoes in North America.”

There are twelve volcanoes in New Mexico, but they’re all extinct so there’s no need to worry about future eruptions.

Volcanoes are only mentioned on this list because many people wonder about volcanic activity in the state. In any case, rest assured, there is no threat.

Natural disaster resources for New Mexico

This list has covered the main types of natural hazards in New Mexico, but I want to encourage you that there are plenty of disaster resources for you to check out and make use of.

  • One of the easiest ways to stay aware of developing weather patterns and storms is by signing up to receive updates from the National Weather Service.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - NOAA Weather Radio app is free and can be downloaded on any device. Toggle all notifications to "on" so that you can get updates in real-time in event of a major weather event.

  • While disasters are generally destructive, they're very different and unique. Proper planning includes having a basic knowledge of each disaster type. This way, you will have peace of mind to overcome them when they occur. We've gone ahead and done the busy work for you.

    In these 14 disaster guides, we've identified key mitigation strategies to prevent personal and property damage. We've also listed safety tips pertaining to each unique disaster as well as identified certain items you should add to your emergency kit.

    At the end of each guide, we've provided checklists for you to print and keep with your emergency supplies so that you can reference them in the future. No memorization required! Find all of our guides here!

  • Having the knowledge to face disasters is crucial, especially considering the unpredictable world we live in. FEMA has instituted the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) which is an organization led by local officials including law enforcement, fire officials, and medical personnel.

    They teach the community emergency preparedness skills, basic first aid, and other helpful courses for free. Not only will you be equipped to overcome local disasters and help neighbors in need, but you'll walk away having met like-minded individuals within your community. Find your local CERT here.

  • For those interested in helping nearby communities in the aftermath of a disaster, look no further than New Meixco's VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster).

    This organization is made up of smaller groups such as local governments, business owners, government agencies, emergency officials, and organizations that have stated which resources they can offer, should their services be needed to meet the local needs.

    Another disaster relief organization is the American Red Cross. They provide temporary housing to evacuees, as well as food, and emergency supplies immediately after a major disaster.

  • For more information on disaster recovery, relief programs, and services available within the state, check out New Mexico's Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

I hope you enjoyed learning about New Mexico’s most common disasters.

We created an in-depth resource with guides, templates, and checklists that will allow you to customize your emergency plan according to your specific needs. Click here to get started!

Want to look up another state? Find out which disasters are likely to happen in other parts of the United States here!

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