Why was it so bright outside on Friday?

(SOUTHERN COLORADO) — Our major winter storm system has now come and gone, leaving a pretty dense blanket of snow across the region. A few different areas saw so much snow that they had to measure it in feet instead of inches.

Above, you can see where some of the hotspots were, or perhaps coolspots is more accurate. Much of the I-25 corridor, including the Denver Metro, saw some very high snowfall amounts. The high country was the big winner though with some truly incredible photos coming in. Here’s just a couple of them:

So how is snow related to the very bright conditions we saw on Friday? A large part of that has to do with something called “albedo.” Albedo is a term that can be loosely defined as the ratio of sunlight that a surface reflects back into the atmosphere. You can think of it as a sort of efficiency if that helps.

Different surfaces have different albedo values, or efficiencies, as they all reflect the incoming sunlight back in various capacities. Here’s a chart highlighting a few surfaces and their percentages of sunlight reflected back.

Notice how ‘fresh snow’ is at the top of the list. Snow has an incredibly high albedo and reflects almost all of the incoming sunlight back into the atmosphere. On the other end of the spectrum is ‘asphalt’ which is one of the lowest of reflectivity surfaces. It’s much easier to look at asphalt in the daytime than it is at fresh snow.

So, if you were out and about on Friday driving, walking, or anything other activity, you likely would have noticed that your eyes were a bit more strained. That’s because so much sunlight was reflecting off the fresh blanket of snow that we got over the last 48 hours.

Hopefully you brought your sunglasses.

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