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Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Thrill rides are seen through a cloud of haze and smog hanging over Davis County in Farmington last month.

SALT LAKE CITY — The state's winter inversion season has 30 days left to go, and while it may seem like there's been a lot of gunk in the skies these past few months, Utahns' lungs are actually faring better than in some years.

The state Division of Air Quality, with its monitoring of harmful pollutants, has issued alerts for Red Days 16 times between Oct. 1 and Feb. 1 this season, with nine Yellow Days for the same time period in Davis and Salt Lake counties.

In contrast, the 2009-10 inversion season logged 22 Red Days and 14 Yellow Days in Davis and Salt Lake counties as of Feb. 1, 2010.

Bryce Bird, the division's planning branch manager, said residents in those areas can only hope the so-called Red Days repeat last season's pattern because there were none after Feb. 1. Yellow Days did hit in Davis and Salt Lake counties eight times after that.

Utah County, too, is on track to be fairly typical, with this season so far recording six Red Days and 11 Yellow Days. Last year, for the entire season, the area hit red nine times and yellow 16 times.

"So far, this has been a pretty average year," Bird said, by far failing to come even close to the 2006-07 season, which racked up 30 Red Days in Davis and Salt Lake counties.

If there is a perception out there that the gunk in the air has lingered longer this year, Bird says: "I take that as we are doing a good job."

By that he means the division has increasingly ramped up its public-awareness campaign regarding air quality conditions, bringing the issue to the forefront for motorists and at-risk people alike.

Bird said the division has been more aggressive through media campaigns and by reaching out to television meteorologists, in addition to working in cooperation with city and county officials to promote clean air campaigns.

A partnership between the division and the Utah Department of Transportation has led to driving alerts that urge people to "travel wisely" and to reduce time on the road to curtail emissions of harmful pollutants.

"I think people are taking extra efforts to reduce trips and are more sensitive to the impacts of pollution."

Utahns hoping to breathe easier in the next month need to keep their fingers crossed to try to ward off any return of a high pressure system that if it settles in, will strangle the air with its accompanying inversion.

"It is meteorology," Bird said. "If we get a good weather pattern with regular storms even if they just drop an inch or two on the ground, it really does help us."

e-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com