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New Year, New Pollution Episode in Northern Utah

inversion over salt lake valley.
Flickr Creative Commons

Northern Utah is bracing for the first pollution episode of the new year, thanks to a multi-day inversion that has started building on the Wasatch Front.

Data at the Utah Climate Centersuggests pollution is already getting stuck under high pressure in the snowy valleys.

“This forecast has been pretty consistent for the last 30 days, calling for an extended inversion period beginning at the beginning of this month and persisting to the middle of January,” says Martin Schroeder, a staff meteorologist at the center.

The climate center bases its forecasts on climate cycles and sea-surface temperatures in the western Pacific. Eighty percent of the time its predictions are right, even when high-pollution episodes are two weeks away. Weather forecasts are normally reliable just days ahead.

“It allows people the information to know when to limit driving,” Schroeder says, “and when potentially these large-scale events will occur.”

Knowing ahead of time about fine particulate pollution can help people with lung and heart problems, and those who are very young or very old. They face the biggest risk of pollution-related health problems like asthma and heart attacks.

The Climate Center at Utah State University usually updates its inversion graph daily.

The Utah Division of Air Quality also has forecasts, emails and apps to monitor pollution and tips for reducing winter smog.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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