Experts hope incoming storms lead to improved air quality

Dec 14, 2021, 12:33 PM
Dust and rain in Salt Lake Valley, wind advisory...
High winds kick up dust along the Wasatch Front last April. Photo credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News.

SALT LAKE CITY — Air quality and weather experts are cautiously optimistic that storms moving in Tuesday and Thursday will help keep inversion to a minimum along the Wasatch Front for the next few days.

Representatives from the Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality and National Weather Service Salt Lake City held a Q&A session on the subject Tuesday morning. 

Inversions are weird

Generally speaking, it’s hard to predict air quality. That’s even more true for places like the Wasatch Front where the natural terrain can lead to inversions at any time of the year. 

The reason winter is sometimes associated with worse inversion is that there is less daylight to warm up the air closer to the ground. 

Essentially, the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountain ranges act as the walls of a big pot with the valley at the bottom. Systems of high pressure sometimes hover above the pot to act as a lid, trapping everything inside. 

“So the cold air stays and also all the pollution that happens in the valleys stays,” said Monica Traphagan, general forecaster for the National Weather Service Salt Lake City. “That’s when you get issues with air quality.” 

She explained inversions typically happen in the morning. During the summer, there’s enough heat and daylight to mix out inversion throughout a given day. With less daylight and heat, winter inversion can become intense. 

Storms and air quality. The valley’s saving grace?

That’s where storms can be the valley’s saving grace for air quality. Traphagan said consistent precipitation can keep inversions to a minimum and mix pollution out of the air. 

“It’s not always a correlation but generally, if you have more storm systems, you have fewer issues with air quality,” she said. 

However, Traphagan was quick to point out more storms are not always the perfect fix. Depending on the existing climate circumstances, storms can have little or no effect on air quality, or even make it worse. 

In any case, the weather expert said the immediate forecast looks positive for a stretch of decent air quality that might even stretch through the holiday. 

“Looks like in the 8-to-14-day outlook that includes leading up to Christmas, it’s most likely that we’re going to continue with a pattern that is most likely to produce above-average precipitation. Looks like temperatures are most likely to be around average. So, that bodes well, at least in the next couple of weeks, for keeping the inversions at bay.”

Visit for the most current air quality conditions in Utah. The Division of Air Quality also has a free mobile app that shows current conditions. 

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Experts hope incoming storms lead to improved air quality