Blustery winds were blamed for causing several electrical outages affecting about 1,000 customers in La Plata County, according to a news release issued Tuesday by La Plata Electric Association.
The state Department of Public Health and Environment issued a blowing-dust advisory, meaning people in sensitive health populations should take extra precautions, said Christopher Dann, spokesman with the state Air Pollution Control Division of the state health agency.
People with pre-existing conditions such as heart or lung problems should limit prolonged exposure and activities that increase respiration rates, he said.
The dust storm was the result of a low-pressure system centered over Utah and Nevada that contributed to a strong southwest flow over this part of the state, said Joe Ramey, forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
The dirt was rising out of New Mexico, he said. Some residents said they could feel and taste the grit in their teeth.
"Even up here in Grand Junction our skies are hazy with dust," he said.
The low-pressure system was expected to diminish Wednesday night, making way for a storm that will bring moisture to the San Juan Mountains and elsewhere in Colorado.
Dust storms have become a common occurrence during the past decade in Southwest Colorado, Ramey said. It is almost a yearly occurrence, he said.
A dust storm April 8, combined with light rain, coated cars and dirtied windows in the Durango area.
Some of the dirt gets deposited on the snowpack in the San Juan Mountains, which turns the snow a dark color and increases the rate of the melt.
"A darker substance will absorb more sunlight than a white substance," Ramey said.
Even if a fresh layer of snow covers the dirty layer, the dirt still manages to migrate to the top and cause rapid melting, he said.
"This just seems to be the pattern that we're seeing in the Southwest during the last decade," Ramey said.
The average snowpack as of Tuesday in Southwest Colorado was 71 percent of normal, he said – second lowest in the state. The lowest was in the Rio Grande basin, east of Wolf Creek Pass.
The average snowpack across the state was 77 percent, he said.
The state health department monitors particulates in the atmosphere, but it takes several weeks to remove and analyze the filters, Dann said.
Other power outages reported included:
In the Turtle Lake and Junction Creek Road (County Road 204) area, where 183 customers lost power at 3:39 p.m. for an unknown cause.
The north Vallecito area, where 92 customers lost power for an unknown cause.