Photo Contest 2023

Winners of the 2023 contest

Our inaugural photo contest provided a view of Mountain Rain or Snow science through your eyes. We received 177 photo submissions from 50 different observers. Below, we share the winner that was selected for each of these categories: 

While we normally ask observers to keep their eyes on the sky, the result of those same eyes focused through your cameras was inspiring! Each photograph gave us a window into your view of winter, your imagination and creativity, and the wide range of weather phenomena in your regions. Thank you to all who submitted. 

The rain-snow transition
Winner: Betty Copeland

Caption: Raindrops and snowflakes.

Bio: Betty lives in Calais, Vermont where she enjoys spending a lot of time outside in all seasons. Photographing loons and wildlife while kayaking on local ponds is her hobby. For this contest, the biggest challenge was trying to anticipate the start of mixed precipitation! She has a heightened awareness of potential weather impacts on preparedness and response to weather events, as she is a member of her town's emergency management team.

Snowline on the landscape
Winner: Anne Heggli

Caption: Looking towards the Carson Range from the Carson Valley between storms on December 28th, 2022.

Bio: Anne Heggli is a PhD candidate working at DRI. She studies the impact that weather and snowpack conditions have on the timing of rain-on-snow induced runoff. She uses this knowledge to improve reservoir operations and aid in flood management.

Citizen science in action
Winner: Riley Gaines

Caption: In mid-January, we embarked on an 11-mile ski tour which brought us to a small hut near the continental divide. Wasted from the journey, we went on a short tour and dug a surprisingly deep snowpit on a northeast aspect just short of 12,000'. Hopefully, this above-average year keeps our streams full this summer.

Bio: Riley lives and plays in Eagle County, Colorado where he works at Walking Mountains Science Center as the Community Science and Hiking Coordinator. When he isn't guiding others in the outdoors, he can be found recreating in the mountains or the desert of Western Colorado.

Impacts of winter storms in your region
Winner: Emilio Mateo

Caption: During winter at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, CO, the only mode of transportation is by ski, which is made evident by the snow piling up and burying entire cabins as the season progresses. 

Bio: Emilio Mateo is a Climate Science Fellow at Aspen Global Change Institute, where he pursues research on projects related to mountain hydrology, climate resilience/adaptation, and science communication. Emilio has previously conducted water resources research in the San Juan Mountains (Colorado) and the Cordillera Blanca (Peru). He has worked in educational and resource management roles at multiple National Parks, and is also an avid photographer, trail runner, skier, and triathlete.

Experiences and lifestyle: Making the best of winter
Tie for Winner: Patrick Thorson

Caption: This feels comfy!

Bio: Patrick Thorson lives in Incline Village, Nevada with his wife Elaine and their two huskies, Cara and Conrad. Patrick studied meteorology, and spent nearly his entire working career in the western United States, specifically in mountainous areas. When not submitting rain or snow observations, he loves doing anything with their huskies, such as hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or just walking them around Incline and letting them enjoy the sniffies. He also likes grilling out and gardening!

Experiences and lifestyle: Making the best of winter
Tie for Winner: Karen Vail

Caption: Peppa surveys the snowy holiday scene

Bio: Karen has lived her whole life in the mountains looking at the ground (as botanist and backcountry guide) and sky (the mountains are so amazing day and night!). Her furry friend Peppa shares in their adventures and also loves both ground (‘great smells, mom!’) and sky (‘birds, mom!!’).

Precipitation Macro Photography
Winner: Valerie Gillen

Caption: Frost on a windowpane.

Bio: Valerie is a medical coder, and lives up a dirt road in Central Vermont where it’s likely to be snowing when it’s raining down in the valley. Valerie actually took this photo with a macro lens attachment she found online for her phone, with the tool she has been enjoying taking close up pictures of snowflakes, flowers, etc. 

What science phenomena did our researchers see in the photos? 

In addition to selecting winners of the photo contest, our team chose 12 photos that represent fascinating winter weather phenomena related to the science of Mountain Rain or Snow. We gathered as a group to discuss what we saw in the photos from the unique scientific "lenses" that each team member brings.

Histories of rain and snow in the snowpack

From our scientists: “Rain falling on snow can create a layer of crusty ice in the snowpack. This image of the snow-rain-snow layers (also known as stratigraphy) perfectly documents what Mountain Rain or Snow is all about – tracking the transition from one precipitation phase to the next.”

Fingerprints of the rain-snow transition

From our scientists: “This close-up image of frozen water droplets covered by recently fallen snow crystals is a wonderful chronology of the transition from rain to snow. If you look closely, you can see that the snow crystals are needle-shaped, which often fall during warmer snow storms.” 

Early autumn snows

From our scientists: “This picture may have captured one of the first snows in autumn. I love the way the image depicts the colors of three seasons – the white of snow, the deciduous leaves changing, and the green of late summer.”

Headwaters to healthy streambanks

From our scientists: “Taken in Orovada, Nevada, this looks like a beautiful place to spend a cool spring day after a quick weather system passed over. The creek is burbling with snowmelt, and the photo captures the path that the stream takes from headwaters to lowlands.” 

Rain on snow research

From our scientists: “If you look closely at the thermometer, you can see that the temperature of the snow is above freezing – which is likely the result of warmer rainwater flowing through the layers of snow. When it rains on top of snow, the liquid water percolates through the layers and creates flow paths. This photo has many elements of hydrologic modeling: how water moves through the snowpack, how is stored in the snowpack, and how it runs off.” 

Slow motion deformation of ice

From our scientists: “This is a great example of ‘plastic deformation’ of snow. Plastic deformation occurs through the day-to-night freeze/thaw cycles, causing the snow and ice to slowly shape itself around the edge of structures. It is a little like Play Doh being shaped in slow motion by the changing temperatures. This kind of deformation can lead to really dense snow layers, which are dangerous for roof avalanches.” 

Dynamic flows on the Big Thompson River

The caption submitted by this observer says it all: “The flow of the Big Thompson River in CO is controlled by the Bureau of Reclamation's Olympus Dam, in winter ranging from 12-25 cubic feet per second. Sometimes the water flows over the top of the ice, forming a thick layer. Weak areas of the ice collapse during warm spells.”

Snows drifting in the Great Basin

From our scientists:  “The distribution of water after snow melts is very different than the distribution after it rains. This is because snow can do things that rain cannot, including be subject to movement by wind. The patterns of wind in this photo illustrate an important difference between rain and snow for hydrologic modeling.”

Hoarfrost on pine needles

From our scientists: “This is a really unique photo of hoarfrost on pine needles. Hoarfrost is a treat to see on still, clear mornings. It forms when the water vapor in the air freezes directly to surfaces below. Just like snow crystallization, the shapes formed by hoarfrost are influenced by the temperature and humidity of the air.” 

Flooding on the Silver Fork

From our scientists: “This flooding event on the Silver Fork, a tributary to the American River, took place during the largest rain-on-snow event in the 2022-2023 season. The storm had a huge impact, and this photo shows the power of water when it gets this high. Snowpacks from higher elevations can melt as it rains, affecting lower areas near the river below.”