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Posted Jan 19 2013 4:39pm
For those who hear about inversions and wonder why we whine about them, this is a great semi-scientific explanation.

Illustration: The photo shows rising steam from a power plant near my home at sunset on the first day of an inversion.

See how the steam reaches a certain height then is flattened and held down?

An atmospheric inversion traps all vehicle, household, commercial, industrial emissions, etc. close to the ground. After a few days (or weeks), it gets quite nasty, especially in a highly populated place. It's also a great illustration of what we normally let float up into the higher atmospheric layers.

There's an explanation here:  NOAA Temperature Inversion

This pic was taken three days ago, but now it's too hazy to see the steam from the power plant at all, even in broad daylight.

Windless winter days in conjunction with geographic layout mean a lot of inversions in Utah. They are dangerous for certain groups at best, and everyone in reality.

I just Googled "air quality Utah 2012" and the lead stories include a pollution report that gives 7 Utah counties failing grades, a NOAA research group with an article titled, "Utah's winter air quality mystery," and a Huffington Post article titled, "Utah Air Pollution Plans Scrapped, State Board to Start Over."

Along with typical traffic cams, we also have "HazeCams" and air quality maps that warn people to stay inside and limit physical activity, especially children, elders, and anyone with a heart or lung disease. It runs on a 6-colored scale: Good (green), Moderate (yellow), USG (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, orange), Unhealthy (red), Very Unhealthy (darker red), and Hazardous (dark maroon).

There's a health alert associated with each.

Dark maroon health alert reads, "Everyone may experience more serious health effects."

Salt Lake City inversion December 11, 2012Photo:
There are also restrictions put into place, like, don't build a fire to get warm on red air days.


Don't go outside.

We've experienced a lot of poor air quality days this year, first because our summer was full of wildfires, (almost 1500 in Utah alone, with smoke blowing in from fires in our neighboring states of CO and ID), and second because this winter has been ... unusual.

It's been cold.

Not just cold. That's normal. It's been COLD. Like really really cold. And it hasn't let up for a month straight. We've only had one day that peaked (for about an hour) over freezing.

That hour, 34°F, was lovely.

At night we've been getting down to... -4°F, -8°F, -11°F (-24°C) ...

During the day we've been in the single digits and teens.

And I know that's normal for some places, but not here. Yeah, we have winter, but this is unusually cold.

Our pre-Christmas snow (so magical!) is still here. It never went away. It has been occasionally added upon by less magical post-Christmas snow. Which is also still here.

There's nothing like dropping off your kid at preschool when it's 1°F. Or heading to the store at 10AM when it's risen to a whopping 3°F. Makes you want to wake up, get out, and make a happy start to the day!

That's probably why I found this so funny, filmed four days ago.

Comparatively, it's true that Utah's got nothing on the people in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories or those crazies at Concordia Station, Antarctica. They're welcome to laugh at us like we laugh at California. Or at least at California's newscasters.

(Although, at this very moment, we really are colder here than at any of the Antarctic stations, except for Concordia and the actual Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.)

And we have been pretty consistently colder than Milwaukee.

See what I mean? Weird.

But let's add in an inversion.

Inversions get blown out by wind, tamped down by rain and snow. But when it's simply and unceasingly cold, they just exist.

And nobody wants to go outside.

I'm definitely not running out in these conditions. I've been training at the gym on a treadmill. Yet, like it or not, my first race is still clipping toward me in the same manner as time.

My first race of the year happens on February 9th. It's the Hale Freezes Over 10K, never cancelled, no matter the temp, the blizzard, or the inversion.

So what was the point of this post?

There was none. I'm just whining.

And since we started with the power plant, I'll end with the power plant.

Bridgette and I went exploring and found something neat on the flip side of the plant, the side that's not obvious from the main road. The sound you hear (a constant whooshing/gushing) is the hot water vapor from the turbines escaping into cold air and instantly condensing. It's hard to see, but there was a deluge of rain inside the structure. Make it full-screen for better effect.

It was very cool! I mean cold...

I mean awesome.

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