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Know the West

When it blows, the snow goes


Last night, I flew home to Colorado to find that my car had changed color. During my weekend away, a wild dust-and-rain storm had rolled over Grand Junction, covering my car -- and the rest of town, it seemed -- with bright orange splotches of desert dirt. “Yep, half of Utah blew through here,” said the attendant at the airport parking lot.
It’s been a dusty winter here in western Colorado -- spooky orange clouds keep busting in from the west, leaving layers of grit on cars, people, and our snowpack. And since darker snow absorbs more heat, dirty snowpack melts faster -- a lot faster, researchers find. The Washington Post recently published a story on our dusty skies, including their causes and implications for Western snow and water -- well worth a look. A couple of winters ago, I trekked into the San Juan Mountains with snow scientist Tom Painter, who studies the effects of dust on snow -- check out the HCN story I wrote about our trip, and his and his colleagues’ disturbing findings.