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Mexican dust found in Colorado blizzard

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It was a tweet from the National Meteorological Service office in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that pointed to the phenomenon.

“The dust that has been carried away this afternoon from the beaches of Mexico … has now been transported to Colorado!” it was read.

“We had a minimum that followed the entire state and carried a lot of southwest wind gusts. You could see in the satellite images the dust rising,” said Sharon Sullivan, an NWS meteorologist in Albuquerque.

The yellow of the NOAA satellite shows the dust being carried north with the winds. Using a filtered layer created by Colorado State University, dust is easier to choose from images.

The dust even ended up in the snow as far north as Boulder, Colorado, according to the National Weather Service, which tweeted an image of the brown cloak falling out of its office.

“We don’t see it too often. Mostly we end up as far north as Boulder,” Sullivan said. More often, he added, dust will be carried from White Sands National Park, which is in the southern part of the state, but getting it from Mexico is quite rare.

How Mexican dust has traveled so far

The weather setup for this event was perfect. Northern New Mexico and parts of Colorado have had a red flag warning over the past few days, so winds were blowing in gusts from the southwest at 60-70 mph at times. Those strong winds helped lift and carry the dust from Mexico.

“Some of these particles are very fine, so it only takes about 15-20 mph to lift them off the ground,” Sullivan said. So with winds that blew three times, the dust was easily picked up and transported about 800 miles.

Similar to the way Saharan dust travels from Africa, across the Atlantic and ends up suspended over the Florida sky, this dust was collected and carried north.

“Dust particles cling to the snowflake or water particles and fall with the snowflake on the ground,” Sullivan said. The result is a layer of fresh snow with a brown hue.

Sullivan said the same setting on Tuesday could cause more dusty snow, which she says also reduces snow albedo, or the power of reflection, which melts faster and will generally reduce the snow level.

It has been a busy week for this region of the country. The Albuquerque National Meteorological Service office had at the same time critical warnings about fire and winter weather, and a tornado clock, which is not unheard of for this region, but is wild.

CNN meteorologist Judson Jones contributed to this report.

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