Although seasonal forecasts suggest the possibility of more showers this spring, the drought is expected to persist, said Denise McWilliams, an agronomist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. Cropping areas are especially hard hit, and limited yields are expected, she said.

"Plan for a hot, dry summer," McWilliams said. "About the only thing we can do is hope for timely rains."

Most of New Mexico has received above-average precipitation since October. Western and southern portions of the state received additional rain last month. Meanwhile, some of the state's higher elevations received unexpectedly heavy snows from mid-February through mid-March.

Still, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's official drought monitor indicates exceptional drought in New Mexico due to deficient groundwater levels. Indeed, the New Mexico Natural Resource Conservation Service's drought status map remains unchanged since last September.

"The middle and lower Rio Grande area is still in severe drought," said Ted Sammis, state climatologist and director of the New Mexico Climate Center at NMSU. About the only areas that have seen any improvement are in the north and northwestern portions of the state because of earlier rain and snow, he said.

To review the latest information on New Mexico's drought conditions, go to the New Mexico Climate Center Web site http://weather.nmsu.edu/. The site offers the latest information about climate, crop water use, and insect development using growing degree-days.

"Precipitation has always been a limited resource in New Mexico, but the long-term, persistent drought is really testing farm and ranch economics," says McWilliams.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com