Weather and Water
Climate in the Southern Rockies, from which the Rio Grande and Rio Chama flow, is classified as semi-desert." The region experiences sunshine more than 300 days per year. Weather conditions are highly variable. On average, the mountain valleys receive 12-15 inches of precipitation a year, and the high mountains generally receive substantially more.
The river running season extends from April through September. Day time high temperatures average 60-80 degrees. In April, May and October, however, winter storms are not unusual. Even when daytime highs are mild or warm, night time temperatures at these elevations (6000 feet-plus above sea level) tend to be chilly throughout the season. The river traveler needs to be prepared for extremes of hot and cold and, very occasionally, wet weather. Follow this link to view monthly weather averages at Taos.
Rio Grande Streamflows also vary widely from year to year, with drought and flood being equally common. Flows are dependent upon the melting of winter snowpacks, and runoff generally peaks during May and June. The rivers may be expected to run their highest at those months. Following a wetter than normal winter, river conditions are often quite rowdy." In drier than normal years, these months may offer the only runnable flows on steep, congested river sections, like the Taos Box (class 4).
Shoulder seasons (mid-April to mid-May and mid-August thru September) usually offer moderate, but runnable river conditions on sections like the Box. Less extreme sections (such as the Racecourse and LaJunta) are runnable throughout the summer in all but the most extreme drought years. Follow this link to view current snowpack conditions in the Rio Grande and Rio Chama basins. ftp://ftp.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/data/snow/update/riogrand.txt
Bear in mind that a single large storm event can substantially change the percentage of snowpack. Even if mid-winter snowpacks are below average, March and April (and even May) snowstorms can turn an unpromising season into a good one.
The Rio Chama is a dam-controlled river, unlike the Rio Grande. During the irrigation season, water demand drives the height of the river. From mid July thru August the Rio Chama has recreational releases every weekend for the river running enthusiast. On the Rio Grande, a rising river may keep rising (with diurnal fluctuations observable). The river will have two or three peaks per year, based on the melting of snowpacks at different elevations.
We generally monitor Rio Grande flows below Taos Junction gauge http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nm/nwis/uv/site_no=08276500&PARAmeter_cd=00065,00060.
Rio Chama flows below El Vado Dam gauge http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nm/nwis/uv/site_no=08285500&PARAmeter_cd=00065,00060.
Follow this link to view real-time streamflow data. . http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nm/nwis/current/type=flow Click the link in the left hand column to see a graph of recent flow conditions.
For a sophisticated interpretation of weather and water trends or late forecasts, call the Far-Flung Adventures office at 800-359-2627.