Photos: Snowpack in San Juan Mountains, May 2023

This page in our free multimedia library features aerial photos of the snowpack in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado.

The San Juans are mostly located in southwest Colorado but also extend into northern New Mexico. The snowpack in the San Juans feeds both the Colorado River and the Rio Grande.

When these photos were captured in May 2023, the San Juans were coming off a very wet winter that generated a snowpack well above the long-term average.

Some of the photos in this collection show considerable dust on top of the snowpack near Telluride. This darkening of the snow surface causes it to absorb more solar radiation and accelerates the melting of the snowpack.

To learn more about how dust affects the snowpack and water supply, see these stories from our bibliography of great snow journalism:

The Rocky Mountains Are Dusty, And It’s A Problem. By Luke Runyon, KUNC, 4/17/2018.

Dust blowing off the shrinking Great Salt Lake is eroding Wasatch snowpack and that could eventually threaten drinking water. By Brian Maffly, The Salt Lake Tribune, 12/22/2018.

Can the next generation of scientists help solve our dust on snow problem? By Aedan Hannon, The Durango Herald, 4/17/2022.

Colorado’s above-average snowpack has an enemy: Dust. By Tracy Ross, The Colorado Sun, 5/18/2023.

DateMay 26, 2023
LocationSouthwest Colorado
CreditMitch Tobin/The Water Desk with aerial support by LightHawk
RightsFree to reuse under Creative Commons license.

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