21st Century Dust Bowl in West?

"Dust storms accelerated by a warming climate have covered the Rocky Mountains with dirt whose heat-trapping properties have caused snowpacks to melt weeks earlier than normal, worrying officials in Colorado about drastic water shortages by late summer.

Snowpacks from the San Juan Mountains to the Front Range have either completely melted or will be gone within the next two weeks, said Tom Painter, director of the Snow Optics Laboratory at the University of Utah and a leading expert on snowmelt.

The rapid melting is linked to a spate of intense dust storms that kick up dirt and sand that in turn are deposited on snow-topped mountains. The dust darkens the snow, allowing the surface to absorb more heat from the sun. This warms the snow -- and the air above it -- significantly, studies show."

Scott Streater reports for Greenwire in the New York Times May 14, 2009.

Friday, May 15, 2009