Living Under a Cloud: Inversion in Salt Lake City

Every winter in recent years, the city that the University of Utah calls its home is often found with a grey smoky haze lying against its skyline. The weather app often has a special notification, warning residents of the pollution outside. Frequent joggers turn to treadmills, the mountains hide behind a murky fog, and the cold air sits far too comfortably among us. This can be defined as “Inversion”, and it’s something we need to keep our eyes on and be aware of.

Poor air quality is not something new for Utah, but in the winter it receives special attention due to dangerous chemicals getting trapped beneath a cloud of cold air that naturally occurs due to our geographic location. Salt Lake City resides in a valley, sitting comfortably between two mountain ranges that essentially create a sort of “bowl”. Hotter air finds its place at the top of the bowl and essentially traps cooler, and polluted, air beneath.

Inversions are natural and can be explained by simple weather events of past or upcoming storms. It’s the air that gets trapped that’s the problem. The amount of pollution doubles each day of an inversion. With these periods lasting weeks at a time in the Utah winter, it can be dangerous and health threatening. At Intermountain Healthcare, Dr. Liz Joy touches on the cautions of polluted air when it comes to health. Dr. Joy explains that for runners, bike commuters, and average people, constantly breathing this poor quality air can affect the possibilities of getting asthma, swelling in blood vessels and airways, and disease. These can be regulated by being wary of current air quality, exercising outside in the mornings when pollution levels are lower, and, most importantly, taking steps to decrease poor air quality out in the community.

Simple ways to decrease air pollution can be carpooling, taking public transit, shoveling snow instead of using snow blowers, choosing environmentally friendly cleaning products, and conserving energy at home by limiting the use of lights and appliances when not in use. Being smart about our use of energy can decrease air pollution, and make the inversions of Salt Lake City's winters health friendly and easier to deal with.

The inversion is not something we can control, but our exposure and contribution to poor air quality is something we can.  Our impact on Salt Lake’s air quality will change through commitment and awareness. Be health conscious and make small choices that can contribute to a healthier and happier beautiful city that we all love so much.

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