Climatologists develop method to predict inversions a month away

Published: Thursday, Jan. 3 2013 6:30 p.m. MST

Robert Gilles, director of the Utah Climate Center, said his team has found a way to predict inversions up to 30 days in advance. They hope that knowing when and how long an inversion will hit will help people and industries better manage the impact. In Logan, Jan. 3, 2013.

Mike Anderson, Deseret News

LOGAN — Climatologists at Utah State University say they have developed a way to predict temperature inversions up to 30 days in advance.

They hope that knowing when and for how long an inversion will hit will help people and industries better manage the impact.

Extreme cold has settled over northern Utah this week, with some locations dropping below zero. A high-pressure system moved in, creating a strong valley inversion. It’s a pattern that’s not expected to change for a few days and is actually expected to intensify, with cold temperatures and bad air in the valleys.

Preparing for such occurrences earlier could bring changes in behavior.

“People might alter their driving habits,” said Robert Gilles, director of the Utah Climate Center at USU. “Just having that information, say, further ahead of time, allows industry, the health industry, all these various elements to perhaps plan accordingly.

The climate center looked at several factors in developing a model for predictions, including the impact of snow on the ground and whether clouds have moved in.

“Clear skies allow more infrared radiation to escape, and that makes the inversion even tighter,” Gilles said.

Climatologists at USU have been researching and improving their method over the past two years.

"There's the ridge moving in, the cold air, the clear skies, the snow, and then the topography all come in to play,” Gilles said.

Gilles said their prediction tool focuses mainly on the Intermountain West, areas affected by the Pacific Ocean. So far, results have been fairly accurate. “Up to 50 percent about 30 days out,” he said. The system is more accurate as it gets closer to the event.

“We do miss a few,” he said. “The system is not flawless by any means. This is part of our two-year period where we’ve been trying to fine-tune what we originally did in the research.”

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