SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Utah residents hear the weather term all the time: inversion. But what is it really, and what can you do about this valley phenomenon?

In short, inversion is a phenomenon that happens when cold air settles into a valley and stagnates. While you typically see colder temperatures at higher altitudes, a lack of airflow in the valley can cause warmer air to actually ride over the top of colder air, trapping pollutants at lower altitudes. This means the higher you go, the warmer it actually gets.

Courtesy: NOAA

Inversion is typically worse during the colder months because cold air is more likely to be trapped by warm air, preventing the two from mixing. Utah has a natural inversion, but our modern-day pollutants have made it worse and more dangerous, especially for those dealing with respiratory issues.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University discovered that children exposed to air pollution with coarse particulate matter above a certain amount were more likely to develop asthma and require emergency room or hospital treatment. These higher levels can come from “roadway particles such as brake and tire wear, and mixtures of road dust and metals” and can increase symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, aggravating lung diseases like asthma and bronchitis. 

Children and the elderly are at a higher risk than other groups because of their generally lower immune systems. Those who experience heart problems, like congestive heart failure and coronary artery diseases, could also have issues. 

If you or a loved one suffer during the winter seasons, ABC4 weather forecaster Bob Bedore has some suggestions.

Drive less, ride more bicycles

During the winter season, 50% percent of Utah’s air pollution comes from mobile sources (cars and trucks), which means the less you can drive, the better for the air. Consider using a bike for both your health and the health of the environment. Also, consider carpooling or even working from home.

Go to the mountains

“Anytime you can, you should rise above it. Get into the mountains. It’ll lift your spirits and help your lungs,” Bedore said. 

The pollution sits in the Wasatch Valley and sticks, so if you’re able to get out of the valley and into the mountains, you’ll get above that pollution. Plus, the views can’t be beaten.

Get an air purifier

An air purifier uses an internal filter and fan to clean unwanted particles from the air in a specific space. This is best for dirty air. If there are pollutants on your couch or furniture, such as animal fur, then it won’t easily get cleaned by the machine.

If you don’t have a purifier and can’t make it out of the valley for the week, then Bedore said not to worry. This week’s coming storm will help alleviate the inversion, at least temporarily.