Natural Disasters in New Mexico: What Is the Risk?

Natural disasters can strike at any time in New Mexico, with everything from severe droughts and wildfires to flash floods and heat waves posing a threat to residents.

Yet, despite these risks, many people in the state remain unaware of just how many types of natural disasters can occur.

This analysis covers what natural disasters occur in New Mexico, the worst natural disasters to hit the state since 2000, and what residents can do to prepare.

Is New Mexico At Risk of Natural Disasters?

Compared to the rest of the United States, New Mexico has a medium risk of natural disasters. Excluding COVID, New Mexico has had 76 disaster declarations since 2000. Of these, 17 were declared significant disasters. 

New Mexico is also frequently hit by natural disasters, which cause more than $1 billion in damages. Since 2000, more than 32 separate $1-billion events have affected the state.

Worst Natural Disasters in New Mexico By Cost (Since 2000)

  1. 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: $39.3 billion
  2. 2022 Drought and Heat Wave: $22.2 billion
  3. Fall 2020 Western Wildfires: $18.9 billion
  4. Spring-Summer 2011 Drought and Heat Wave: $16.2 billion
  5. Spring-Fall 2002 Drought: $15.1 billion

Worst Natural Disasters in New Mexico By Deaths (Since 2000)

  1. 2021 Drought and Heat Wave: 229 deaths
  2. Spring-Fall 2000 Drought and Heat Wave: 140 deaths
  3. 2022 Drought and Heat Wave: 136 deaths
  4. 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: 123 deaths
  5. Spring-Summer 2011 Drought and Heat Wave: 95 deaths

*Cost and death tolls are for the entire disaster, including in other states affected.

Most Common Natural Disasters in New Mexico

1. Heat Waves

As with the rest of the country, the risk of heat days is increasing in New Mexico. New Mexico has an average of 20 “dangerous” heat days per year. The National Weather Service defines these as days where the heat index is 103F or above. By 2050, the number of dangerous heat days in New Mexico is expected to increase to 40 days per year.

In addition to more dangerous heat days, New Mexico will also see more “Local Hot Days.”  Local Hot Days are defined as “Days at or above the 98th percentile temperature, or the temperature than an area could expect to see on the hottest 7 days of the year.”  Essentially, Local Hot Days factor in what temperatures a local population is used to experiencing.  

An increase in Local Hot Days is associated with health problems like strokes, and heat-related deaths are more likely to occur. Energy demands also increase from air conditioning use.

All parts of New Mexico are expected to have an increase in Local Hot Days, but Doña Ana County is particularly at-risk. By 2053, Doña Ana is expected to have 25 consecutive days with temperatures at or above 99.5℉.

2. Wildfires

Even though New Mexico doesn’t have many wildfires, the wildfires it does have tend to be significant.

Because of this, New Mexico is one of the top 10 states when it comes to acres burned by wildfires.

The state has had to declare an emergency over 40 times since 2000 because of wildfires and has been affected by 10 billion-dollar wildfires.

The risk of wildfire is only increasing in the state. By 2050, an estimated 95% of all properties in New Mexico will have some risk.

New Mexico Wildfire Stats

  • Acres burned in 2021: 123,427
  • Number of fires in 2021: 565
  • Number of properties currently at risk of wildfire: 1,380,735

Which Areas of New Mexico Are Most At-Risk for Wildfires?

There are over 900,000 housing units in New Mexico. Many of these are located in high-risk areas for wildfires. An estimated 15% of all New Mexico properties are at high or extremely high risk for wildfires, and another 24% are at moderate risk.

The New Mexico counties with the highest concentration of properties at risk are:

  • Lincoln
  • Los Alamos
  • Colfax
  • Mora
  • Catron

Largest Wildfire in New Mexico Recent History

The Whitewater-Baldy wildfire in 2012 was the largest the state has seen in terms of acres burned. By the time the fire was extinguished, it had consumed 287,800 acres.

3. Flooding

Compared to the USA as a whole, New Mexico is at low risk for flood disasters. However, New Mexico does sometimes experience flooding. The state is dry, so river flooding is rare.

However, flash flooding does regularly occur. The dry New Mexico soil can’t absorb the rain fast enough, causing flash floods and debris flows. Nearly 9% of all properties in New Mexico are currently at risk of flooding. 

New Mexico Flood Stats

  • 128,800 properties at substantial risk in 2020
  • 219,000 properties at risk by 2050
  • 129,700 properties at substantial risk by 2050
  • 22,000 properties at almost certain risk by 2050
  • 3,900 FEMA flood damage claims since 2000

Which Areas of New Mexico Are Most At-Risk of Flooding?

Floods can occur in all parts of New Mexico, but some areas of the state are particularly at-risk. Below are the areas of New Mexico with the greatest percentage of properties likely to experience flooding (based on 2020 calculations). 

  • Lovington: 85%
  • Los Ranchos de Albuquerque: 62%
  • North Hobbs: 61%
  • Artesia: 43%
  • Socorro: 38%
  • Hobbs: 36%

In addition to these areas, there are many major cities and towns in New Mexico where thousands of properties are at risk. This includes over 16,000 properties in Albuquerque and over 6,600 properties in Las Cruces.

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