BOUNTIFUL, Utah (ABC4) — If there is one thing that we can count on along the Wasatch Front during the winter season, it’s bad air quality at some point. Inversions are common during the winter months along the northern valleys, which can lead to the build-up of bad air.
Inversion in the valley is when cold air pools in the lower elevations due to snow on the ground, a low sun angle, and limited daytime heating. The cold air remains trapped underneath a layer of warmer air up above.
“It’s basically like putting a lid on the valley, all the pollution that we all make, and there’s lots of us, all just kind of goes up there and doesn’t go anywhere,” said Bo Call, the air monitoring system manager at the Utah Department of Air Quality.
This is a common scenario in the winter months when high pressure has settled in over the western states, and storms are diverted to the north. This year, a more active polar jet over the western states has allowed for more storms to roll into Utah, mixing out the bad air with passing fronts.
“It’s been fantastic, once again,” said James Armendariz, a Salt Lake County resident. “When there’s a break in the weather, I’ve been able to get outside and enjoy extra circular activities outdoors.”
Improving air quality means better health conditions for people with respiratory issues as well.
“As someone with asthma, it’s been nice having the air be as clear as it’s been, but it’s a little alarming that it’s 50 degrees in January!” said Jake Arnold from the Salt Lake Valley.
Call said it usually takes about three to four days in an inversion to see pollution levels jump up to “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups,” which is above the standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter.
Looking back over the past several years, Utah has not had too many days of bad air.
“For us to really see the pollution growth, we’re looking at cold temperatures, snow on the ground and being inverted,” Call said. “Frankly, we haven’t had the snow on the ground, and it’s been warmer the past couple of years and that has also managed to keep our pollution levels down lower even when we do get inverted.”
With more storms in the forecast heading into next week, we should be able to maintain the standard level of air quality. However, Call also said that Utahns can help keep the pollution numbers low by reducing the number of trips they take, carpooling, and choosing not to burn wood fireplaces.