While hope for a good year remains for New Mexico farmers and ranchers, state and national weather forecasters have dropped a bomb on enthusiasm prompted by late fall and early winter rains the state received last year.

The National Weather Service's Albuquerque office announced during a monthly meeting of state and federal fire and water officials that the first quarter of the year is one of New Mexico's driest starts ever for the first two-plus months of any year on record.

"We are seeing intense dry conditions in eastern New Mexico especially and extending into the Texas Panhandle. If conditions persist we certainly will continue to see worsening conditions not just in that area but all across the state," says National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Brian Guyer in Albuquerque.

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He says much of New Mexico experienced substantial rain events last September and while October and November were not active wet months, the rains returned in December, setting up what looked to be a good start to 2014.

"But as January and February rolled around hopes were greatly diminished for a wet winter and we now find ourselves in a place all too familiar, where things can get worse if we don't get some rain relief soon," he added.

Of equal concern is the shortage of snowpack in the mountains. In spring when the snow melts, the state benefits from runoffs that drain into rivers and streams and help replenish ground water as well. But in spite of early snow showers in the mountains last fall, the state is experiencing low levels of snow accumulations. Guyer said the early snows looked good and a few substantial snow events occurred throughout the season, but the mountains have light to non-existent snowpacks going into the spring season.

"The Sangre de Cristo Mountains had about 48 percent of average snowpack this year, and the Rio Hondo Basin around Ruidoso only had about 6 percent of average, so there is not much hope of a lot of water from that," Guyer said. "Snowpack conditions have already deteriorated statewide. Many areas have no snowpack remaining and only higher elevations have much snow left, so we're not looking for a lot of relief in that department."