Melting Rocky Mountain snow once offered a regular stream of water to regional farmers and water managers—but that system isn't so reliable anymore. The culprit: Vast amounts of dust that blow in from the Southwest, the Wall Street Journal reports. Darkened by dust, the snow is melting earlier in the year, before farmers and ranchers need it. Conditions don't seem to be improving: In 2009 and 2010, the mountains had five times the dust they'd seen between 2005 and 2008, researchers found.
During a storm in April, Colorado was hit with more dust within 16 hours than it had seen total in any previous season, says a researcher, who notes that storms are getting "more frequent and larger." The cause of the dust appears to be a combination of Southwest drought and Western land use, the Journal notes. Some 40 million people get water from the Colorado River watershed, which is already facing a drought; the melting issue is posing a further problem. On top of all that, the dusty snow is bad news for ski resorts, causing skis to get stuck in the red-tinged snow in what one resort exec calls "an apocalyptic scenario." (Read more Rocky Mountains stories.)