As storms move out, inversions move in

Dec 17, 2022, 9:00 AM
trees and snow pictured, inversions are set to come up soon...
Snow on a grey day is pictured on the Rose Park Golf Course in Salt Lake City on Dec. 13, 2022. (Samantha Herrera/KSL NewsRadio)
(Samantha Herrera/KSL NewsRadio)

SALT LAKE CITY —  As winter storms bring in cold air, they set us up for winter inversions. But those same storms are also the key to improving our air.

With every snowfall, cold air settles on the valley floors. Warmer air settles on top and all our pollution suddenly can’t escape creating an inversion.

The Utah Division of Air Quality Director Bryce Bird said the pollution will continue to build and get worse until something breaks it up.

“It takes a large storm event to have the strength to then mix that cold pool of air out of the valley floor.”

Bird said if the storm leaves behind cold air we start the cycle again, “When the next storm moves in that then breaks the inversion, clears out the valley, and then, unfortunately, if the snow remains on the valley floor it builds up again until the next storm.”

Normally, the sun would break up the pollutants and keep them from creating these inversion bubbles, but the snow on the valley floors keeps that from happening.

This leaves us in a bit of a cycle as storms clear out the air, and drop snow. This cools the air, trapping it and the pollutants, and causing it to build up again until the next storm.

Bird said that optimally we’d have a storm every few days to keep the pollution from building up for too long.

Preventing pollution from building during inversions

Bird said working remotely can help the air stay clean longer. “Our motor vehicles are the largest component of what makes up our air pollution in our winter inversion periods.”

He said even chaining your trips together can help as your car won’t have to fully warm up every time you go out. Choosing not to burn wood or coal also will help.

Otherwise, it’s just a matter of waiting either for the next snowstorm or warmer days.

Related: Nonprofit asks skiers to dispose of environmentally unfriendly ski wax

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As storms move out, inversions move in