Wasatch Front's inversion season kicks off the New Year

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 2 2013 3:05 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Stagnant air in the advent of the new year is driving temperatures down and pollution up — conditions that are expected to persist into next week.

Double-digit, subzero cold has separate regions of Utah in its clutches, including Randolph in the extreme northern reaches of the state, which sunk to minus-18 Wednesday morning. It was nearly that cold in Wellington, near Price, which logged an overnight chill of minus-15 on Tuesday.

A high-pressure system is settling in, making the haze and gunk of inversions that much worse, with no immediate relief in sight.

The unwelcome, albeit common January inversion prompted Utah air quality regulators to issue public health alerts for Utah, Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Cache counties, urging motorists to minimize driving and prohibiting the use of fireplaces and wood-burning stoves.

Such conditions, forecast to last over the next several days, can cause respiratory complications in the very young, the elderly or for asthma sufferers. Prolonged exposure is not recommended, and vulnerable people are asked to refrain from strenuous exercise outdoors.

Air quality is a bit better in Box Elder and Tooele counties, which was described as "moderate," and motorists were asked to voluntarily reduce drive time and residents urged to refrain from using fireplaces.

"We have settled into a winter inversion that has trapped the pollution in our valley," said Donna Kemp Spangler, spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Quality. "The forecast doesn't look promising: With no real storms with any punch to push out the pollution, the haze will continue for much of this week."

Mike Conger, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, said that snow cover is keeping the temperatures low and facilitating the buildup of pollutants.

While those temperatures are lower than what is normal, they are not  all that unusual for this time of the year, he said.

What meterologists are seeing is low maximum temperatures — with chilly overnight lows that do not rebound very quickly even as the day progresses.

The cold and snow cover are also combining to create areas of patchy fog that could become more dense as the week progresses.

A storm system that could move into Utah next week may stir it up enough that the pollution clears out.

More information on Utah air quality conditions can be found at www.airquality.utah.gov.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16

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