Droughts are such uncertain things that it is folly to be too precise when saying when one starts or ends. But I will entertain the folly by being extremely precise. The southwest’s first great drought of the 21st century began Sept. 1, 1999.
I know because that is the day I put up a rain gauge in my backyard. I was doing a story for the newspaper about an extraordinarily wet August that year when I made the acquaintence of Robert DeBlassie, who lives in Albuquerque’s south valley and keeps rainfall stats as a volunteer for the National Weather Service. In the course of the conversation, DeBlassie asked where I lived. When I told him, he pointed out that the weather service didn’t have a volunteer observer in that neighborhood, and asked if I’d be interested. When I said yes, he didn’t hesitate, driving out that afternoon to the newspaper with a rain gauge.
I mounted it out in the backyard, got my booklet of official U.S. Department of Commerce form WS B-91’s, and waited.
I got rain the first three days, but September 1999 was a little below average. October was a lot below average. During November, not a drop fell.
In the nearly four years since I started keeping track, we’ve had seven months with significantly above-average precipitation and 24 months with significantly below-average precipitation.
So for my money, the drought starts there.