With the onslaught of full blown winter across the lower Rockies, southern New Mexico farmers are hoping for heavier-than-normal snows this year at higher elevations, a condition that could improve irrigation allotments significantly for the 2014 growing season.

"It was a dismal period for water from the river last year," says Federico Cabrera, who farms and runs cattle just south of Elephant Butte Reservoir. "While late season rains provided some relief, we are looking for a heavy snowpack in the mountains if we hope to get any irrigation relief this year."

Cabrera isn't the only one concerned that winter weather may be the only hope for an improved irrigation outlook in 2014.

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"It's the same for everyone down the Rio Grande as far south as the Texas border. Those that could tapped into groundwater to stay afloat, but in spite of some good rain starting in September, the riverbed is dry in many places and when spring returns, if there isn't a good snowmelt, we're back in the same shape as last year," he said.

Hydrologists agree. The annual snowmelt is a saving grace for the dry Southwest, and after continuous years of severe drought across most of New Mexico, that is especially true now.

Wayne Sleep, a hydrologic technician for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), says early winter started out well in terms of snowfall. But by late December, the heavier snows began to skirt northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Historically, the heaviest snows fall in January and February, so hope remains that snow accumulations will pile up before spring.