SANTA FE — New Mexico is now offering the quickest sunburn in the country.
The state’s ultraviolet index was projected at 13 on Thursday afternoon — well into what’s classified as an extreme level of exposure to UV radiation.
It was higher than every other state in the continental United States. Only Hawaii matched New Mexico with a projected UV index of 13, according figures released by the U.S. National Weather Service and Environmental Protection Agency.
And the sunshine isn’t just bright. Roswell was set to hit 109 degrees Thursday, and the triple-digit temperatures are expected to work their way northward.
Albuquerque’s first 100-degree day of the summer is expected Monday.
David Craft, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said the absence of cloud cover and other conditions are shortening the time it takes for sunshine to damage a person’s skin and eyes.
Ultraviolet radiation contributes to the risk of skin cancer and cataracts, for example, according to the EPA.
The blistering temperatures, meanwhile, make it all the more important, Craft said, to ensure children or pets aren’t left in behind in the car.
“People need to make commonsense decisions about how to protect themselves,” Craft said in an interview Thursday, “but also anyone else who might be in danger.”
Prescribed burn postponed
The weather is also exacerbating fire risk.
Forest managers said Thursday they have called off a prescribed burn planned in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado because of windy conditions.
The project had been expected to begin as soon as Saturday to clear out dead vegetation and other fuel across a swath of the Carson and Rio Grande national forests.
But conditions may not be suitable again until late in the summer after the monsoons subside, a spokesman for the Carson National Forest said.
San Juan County in the northwestern part of New Mexico announced open-burning restrictions and urged people to be be extra careful amid the forecast for “critical fire weather” through the weekend.
Late arrival forecast for monsoon season
Craft said weather patterns suggest New Mexico will see a later onset than usual of its summer rains. The average start of monsoon season is about July 9, but Craft said it may be later this year.
The outlook for the winter, on the other hand, is wet and cool.
For now, however, the bright sunshine and warmer-than-normal temperatures are cause to take precautions.
New Mexico is projected to remain near the top of the UV index rankings Friday — tied with Arizona at 12, among the lower 48 states and just behind Hawaii at 13.
“Anything you can do to protect your skin and your eyes would be helpful,” Craft said.
An index of 11 or higher is considered extreme by the World Health Organization.
The National Weather Service is also encouraging people to heed heat-safety tips.
They include avoiding strenuous outdoor activity during the afternoon, staying hydrated, checking on neighbors who don’t have cooling at home and always checking your car before locking it to ensure a child or pet isn’t left behind.