Dirty snowpack: Most dust since 2009?

Tomer’s Take:

  • The dust storm on 4/22 was one for the books. Dust was deposited on most of the high mountain snowpack – especially the Southern Mountains.
  • This could be the most significant layer of dust since 2009. Here’s a look back at 2009 in a paper I co-authored.

Dr. McKenzie Skiles at the University of Utah snapped this photo looking into the Wilson Massif in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

Dirty, dusty San Juan snowpack, end of April 2022. Dr. McKenzie Skiles.

Here’s a look back at the 4/22 dust storm with wind gusts of 50-90mph. Notice how much dust was entrained on the MODIS satellite image with dust/smoke overlay.

MODIS satellite 4/22 with dust/smoke overlay.

MODIS satellite also has a feature that can look at “Dust Radiative Forcing”. Dust increases radiative forcing and promotes faster melting of the snowpack. Below, is the current satellite image as of 5/2.

Obviously, the Southern Mountains have high amounts of dust. I suspect the Central and Northern Mountains have more dust than what’s being detected. Why? It continues to snow in the Central and Northern Mountains covering up the dust from 4/22. The Southern Mountains have been relatively dry since 4/22 with very little snow. Eventually those dust layers in the Central and Northern Mountains will be revealed as the snow melts.

Below is a look at the current dust radiative forcing versus history. It’s clearly outside of the normal range.

How does this process work? The snowpack melts faster sending water downstream earlier and faster than normal.

6 thoughts on “Dirty snowpack: Most dust since 2009?

  1. Cathy

    It could be worth explaining how this is significant with respect to albedo and increased melting.

    Reply
    1. christomer Post author

      Dust on the snowpack lowers the albedo and forces the snowpack to melt faster sending water downstream earlier than normal. CT

      Reply
  2. Mickey

    Any relief in sight for the winds up here in Co? Been brutal trying to plan anything above 12k. Early mornings better perhaps? Searching for anything to ease the pain.

    Reply
    1. christomer Post author

      Hi Mickey – no relief, stronger winds return this weekend and most of next week. It’s back to the April pattern as most of the precip tracks north of Colorado.

      Reply
  3. Pingback: Windy week ahead - Meteorologist Chris Tomer

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