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'Heartbreak Ridge': Inversion's Here To Stay Awhile

Utah Department of Transportation
This screenshot from rush hour Thursday shows how the winter smog is already settling in on the Salt Lake Valley. Using cars less means less pollution in the air and less inversion buildup.

It's a great time to try out public transit. That's because the first big inversion of the season has settled in and pollution's building in northern Utah valleys.

Jim Steenburgh is calling it "Heartbreak Ridge." He's a University of Utah professor of atmospheric science whose Twitter handle is Professor Powder. He also blogs at Wasatch Weather Weenies, and a recent post got a lot of traction: “Disastrous Heartbreak Ridge to Develop.” Why that name?


“It’s just a big high-pressure system that’s developing over the western United States,” says Steenburgh. “I call it “Heartbreak Ridge” because it’s kind of a heartbreaker for skiers at least for the next week or week and a half -- or maybe longer.”

Generally speaking, high pressure shoves aside any storms that would deliver snow and clean air. The National Weather Service shows no storms in Utah’s near-term forecast.

And the pollution? All signs are it’s starting to pile up under the lid of high pressure. Steenburgh says emissions from cars and trucks today will become pollution tomorrow.

“Everybody in the valley should think about cutting down on driving today. We need to do it now, because this air mass is going to be around for quite a long time.”

The nonprofit UCAIR has some ideas for reducing your own pollution footprint. One is carpooling or using public transit.


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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