Did it just rain mud in Salt Lake City? An NWS meteorologist explains

Those in Salt Lake likely saw their cars and windows covered in a dirty film this week. The cause is dust in the western desert.

(Jacob Scholl | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dust from the West Desert rained down on Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.

Many along the Wasatch frontline earlier this week noted they may need to stop at a car wash or clean their windows after realizing a dirty film had covered everything outside.

The film, which resembles dirty raindrops, is likely the result of dust from the Western Desert infiltrating the larger Wasatch Front. But how does it work?

Hayden Mahan, a weather forecaster with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Salt Lake City, said a cold front was moving from the west toward the greater Salt Lake area. The cold front included windy weather with gusts reaching up to 60 miles per hour in some places on Wednesday. Along with the wind came particulate matter, Mahan said, which acts as a nucleus for precipitation to attach to.

“We had a lot of particulate matter and dust in the atmosphere, but we also had some precipitation,” Mahan said. “If this precipitation hadn’t happened, the dust wouldn’t have been so noticeable.”

He added that particulate matter doesn’t have to be dust, precipitation could also attach itself to things like smoke from wildfires.

On Tuesday the NWS tweeted that a cloud of dust was blowing toward the Wasatch Front, which had obscured visibility between Salt Lake and Provo. It’s the same dust that Mahan said is probably responsible for the dirty raindrops left behind.

Mahan said this week’s dirty rain stretched as far north as Ogden and south to Nephi, but mostly hit Salt Lake and Utah counties.

He added that this type of muddy rain and dust clouds is somewhat common at this time of year and said it was more common this time last year. Mahan said he was a little surprised when he saw the cloud of dust rising, especially considering how wet the winter has been.

“No matter how wet the winter was, there’s still a chance to kick up and kick up loose material and infect it further east,” Mahan said.

Justin Scaccy

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