Weather coverage in New Mexico is missing the mark



Land and ocean temperature information for June, 2016.

It’s been hot. On Monday, temperature records were broken or tied in Capulin, Roswell, Clayton, Clines Corners, Santa Fe, and Tucumcari.

Cue the small talk and the paper fans, because there’s not much more to say about New Mexico’s weather lately.

At least that’s what you’d think when turning on television news or picking up most of the state’s newspapers.

In a Portales News-Tribune story reprinted by the Albuquerque Journal this week, there was coverage of how the hot, dry weather is affecting farmers: “(Z-7 Farms Owner Rick) Ledbetter said he anticipates more crop failures if there is no rain or moisture, leading to the reliance on insurance money in the coming months.”

That’s a big news story.

Farmers in eastern New Mexico already rely heavily on dwindling groundwater supplies—and are still suffering economic blows from the last drought. And while the reporter mentions insurance money, it’s also worth noting that farmers have to rely on federal subsidies, too.

Already, it’s tough to make a living as a farmer. In Roosevelt County, where per capita income is $18,086, the amount of irrigated acreage decreased by 34 percent between 2007 and 2014. According to the region’s draft water plan, the number of dairies has dropped, too, and there’s no demand from dairy farmers for loans. The plan also notes that hay for livestock is trucked from Colorado because it’s too expensive to grow in eastern New Mexico.

In that recent news story, the reporter quoted Roosevelt County Extension Agent Patrick Kircher saying, “It certainly is a challenge with the current climate conditions. It’s not the easiest time to be in agriculture.”

A lot more could be said about New Mexico’s current climate conditions. Like, about how warming temperatures will continue to affect snowpack and surface water flows. Or about how groundwater levels are dropping in places throughout the state. Farmers need to worry not only about water supplies, but also pest control and a growing season that’s longer than it was just a few decades ago. Continued warmer temperatures also affect air quality and public health, as well as the health — and flammability — of the state’s grasslands and forests.

Whether these are rural newspapers, the daily weather report on television, or the state’s largest paper, not giving readers information about climate change – and what scientists say will occur in New Mexico as the region continues warming – does a great disservice to the public.

To serve the needs of all New Mexicans, editors and publishers should be encouraging their reporters and newscasters to incorporate data about climate change into stories about the economy, planning, infrastructure projects, workforce issues, tourism, and the myriad of issues reporters cover in their communities. Warming even affects sports and recreation.

Just this week, NASA reported that June 2016 was 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average. That breaks last year’s record for the warmest June on record. So far this year, the average global temperature is 1.89 degrees above the 20th century average. That shatters last year’s record of 0.36 degrees higher than average.

There was a time when television managers, newspaper editors, and publishers could hide behind the faux debate over whether climate change was real or not. That time is long gone. And by ignoring one of the state’s most pressing issues, editors and newscasters are blowing a big story.