A wind storm earlier this month covered a southwestern Idaho mountain range with dust from Oregon and Nevada and accelerated snowmelt due to the darker surface absorbing heat from the sun as opposed to being reflected by pristine white snow, scientists say.
Dust covers slopes of snow in Owyhee Mountains, March 8, 2013. Credit: USDA.
Another day, another amplifying feedback of Dust-Bowlification. The Idaho Statesman reports:
A dust storm that covered the mountains accelerated runoff at the end of winter, exposing scientists to a strange event.
Scientists say the storm on March 6 caused unprecedented melting. The dust-on-snow show came during five hours of wind that averaged 34 miles per hour and gusted up to 57 mph on ridgelines at the Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed in the northern Owyhee Mountains.
Hydrologists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture research area then observed accelerated melting from March 10 to March 16, when a new dusting of snow covered the layer of dirty snow.
“Nobody on our staff has ever witnessed anything similar,” said research hydrologist Adam Winstral.
Considerable snow had already melted by March 11 at the same spot in Owyhee Mountains. Credit: USDA
The photos can be found on the The Idaho Statesman blog.
So what caused the dust storm? Remarkably, The Idaho Statesman explains:
Scientists are careful not to speculate about what could be causing the shifts in weather. They generally say that climate change is giving Idaho warmer winters and hotter summers that fuel bigger fires – which in turn leave the deserts with less native grasses to hold the soil.
Dust storms were reported in Oregon and Nevada last year after major wildfires. The Holloway Fire started Aug. 5 along the Oregon-Nevada border and quickly grew to 461,000 acres. The Long Draw Fire burned 582,000 acres in July.