Snow dust may not be good sign |

Snow dust may not be good sign

Allen Best

SILVERTON – Everybody who skis the backcountry or who has dug a “hasty pit” to study the stability of a snowpack has seen layers of dust left by winter storms. The dust can look like the layers of frosting in a cake.Where does it come from? Scientists studying snow in the Silverton-Telluride area, and near Crested Butte and Aspen, say dust from six of seven storms was traced to the nearby deserts in Utah and Arizona. What’s causing the dust is still uncertain. Scientists speculate it’s cattle and sheep grazing, as well as off-road vehicles and other disturbances to the soil.But whatever the source, more dust could mean earlier runoff. Thomas Painter, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, says as snow melts, the exposed dust layer forms a dark surface crust, somewhat like a dirty roadside snow bank. This crust soaks up nearly twice as much sunlight as un-contaminated snow.Computer models predict the dirty snow melts 18 days earlier than white snow, although that has not yet been proven.Why does any of this matter? Well, if temperatures warm in the West, as is predicted by global warming theory, conditions may become drier. If they are drier, that means more dust – and more dust means snow disappears more rapidly in high-mountain snowpacks.If snow disappears more rapidly, then the bare ground will soak up and absorb heat more readily, further increasing the temperature – and in turn affecting local vegetation, from trees to alpine wildflowers. And if the vegetation changes, then the animals that browse them will … Well, you get the idea.Park City wants $1 million for namePARK CITY, Utah Most big cities sell the naming rights for their stadiums and arenas, so why not ski towns?That’s the plan in Park City, where ground has been broken on a recreational complex that will feature an Olympic-sized ice rink, soccer and softball playing fields, and other inducers to sweat and rapid heart beats.As planned, the project will cost $9.5 million, but city officials think they can get up to $1 million from sale of the complex’s name, reports The Park Record.Vail, Colorado

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