Dusty cold frontal passage

Posted Monday, March 29th, 2021 by Julie Cunningham

TL;DR: Cold frontal passage earlier today led to cooler, windy conditions with plenty of dust transport from the West Desert. Ridge sets in by Wednesday, bringing warm, sunny weather to northern Utah for the near future.

Nowcast: Well, I wish I could say it was a great day for skiing (spring skiing, even!), but it really was not. While we did have a strong cold front pass through northern Utah this morning, its origins were quite dry and it didn’t bring any snow to the Wasatch. What it did bring, was plenty of dust from the West Desert, and some pretty gusty winds, especially at crest level. In the satellite imagery below, you can see the dust (yellow) being transported from the NNW. If you took a look outside earlier, you might not have even seen the Wasatch or the Oquirrhs.

Graphic courtesy of CIRA-CSU.

Dust on snow certainly is not great for the snowpack. More dust means less solar radiation is reflected off the snow (i.e. more solar radiation is absorbed), and the snow will melt faster. Plus, no one likes to ski on gritty dust.

It was quite gusty at the mountains today, with winds up to 76 mph at the Hidden Peak site, at 11,000 feet, and wind chills below zero after the frontal passage. Temperatures also had a huge change with this strong cold front, from a high of 50 degrees at the Alta-Collins site yesterday, to a low near 19 degrees around 2pm today.

Short-term: Winds will continue to die down this evening, as the upper-level trough advects to our east. This will be a great setup for a persistent ridge through at least the weekend. While that’s not great for our powder hounds out there, this set up could make for some fun spring skiing in the second half of the week and into the weekend. Highs in the valley will approach the mid to upper 70s by the weekend, which means temperatures likely well above freezing for the higher elevations.

Long-term: Warm! Dry! Not great for powder, but it’s time to break out your spring skiing gear and sunscreen. Hopefully we’ll get some more winter storms soon. Enjoy!
– Julie

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