The air quality is unhealthy. What causes Utah weather inversions?

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah is known for its winter inversions, but there are different things that cause them.

On Monday, a number of monitoring stations in the Salt Lake Valley showed the air quality to be red or unhealthy. The good news is that the inversion will likely be blown out of the valley mid-week by an approaching storm.

Expect deteriorating air quality mid-week as inversion takes hold

According to Environmental Protection Agency, The Air Quality Index, or AQI, measures air pollution levels on a scale of 0 to 500.

  • An AQI less than 50, or “green” on the map, is considered good air quality,

    KSL air quality network shows monitoring stations across the Wasatch Front on Monday. “Red” indicates unhealthy air quality. Screenshot via

  • Between 51 and 100, “yellow” is the moderate category,
  • Between 101 and 150, “orange”, sensitive groups should take precautions against unhealthy air and
  • Over 150, “red”, is unhealthy for everyone.

What causes Utah inversions?

According to Utah Department of Environmental Qualitystate reversals are caused by the combination of an area’s topography or natural and man-made features, weather conditions in the area, and emissions.

Normally, air temperature increases with altitude, but in winter this pattern can “reverse”, meaning cooler air is trapped in the valleys under a cover of warmer air and calmed down.

Particulate emissions are low but dangerous

Under this cover, pollutants mix with chemicals from emissions containing fine particles such as PM2.5. These liquid droplets and solid particles are found in the air and are so small that they are a fraction of the width of a strand of hair. But that makes them easy to inhale and get into your lungs.

PM2.5 has been associated with worsening asthma, decreased lung function, and increased respiratory symptoms, such as coughing or difficulty breathing.

According to QED.

But just like the tips for protecting yourself from COVID-19, if you wear the right mask, it will help your lungs stay clear of the bad reversal effects. N95 and KN95 masks can filter 95% of airborne particles larger than 0.3 microns.

What can I do to improve air quality?

The biggest impact an individual can have in the inversion is limiting the air pollution you generate:

  • Don’t let your car or truck idle.
  • Limit your driving by combining errands into one trip. If possible, carpool, use public transport, bike or walk.
  • Replace your indoor furnace air filter and make sure it is working properly.
  • Do not burn wood. If you rely on wood for heating, you may be eligible to replace your wood stove or fireplace through the state. Assistance program for the conversion of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces.
  • Fill up with Tier 3 gasoline, which can reduce vehicle pollution by 80%. You can find stations with Tier 3 gas by visiting

Utah Governor Praises Cleaner Burning Tier 3 Fuel in Utah

When does this inversion start?

KSL meteorologist Kristen Van Dyke predicts air quality in Utah will improve starting Thursday, with rain turning to snow on Christmas Eve. So put on your mask and stay out of the grime until then.

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