Long-term winter inversion properties in a mountain valley of the western United States and implications on air quality

Simon Wang, Utah State University
L. E. Hipps
O Y. Chung
P R. Gillies
Randy S. Martin, Utah State University


Because of the geography of a narrow valley and surrounding tall mountains, Cache Valley (located in northern Utah and southern Idaho) experiences frequent shallow temperature inversions that are both intense and persistent. Such temperature inversions have resulted in the worst air quality in the nation. In this paper, the historical properties of Cache Valley’s winter inversions are examined by using two meteorological stations with a difference in elevation of approximately 100 m and a horizontal distance apart of ~4.5 km. Differences in daily maximum air temperature between two stations were used to define the frequency and intensity of inversions. Despite the lack of a long-term trend in inversion intensity from 1956 to present, the inversion frequency increased in the early 1980s and extending into the early 1990s but thereafter decreased by about 30% through 2013. Daily mean air temperatures and inversion intensity were categorized further using a mosaic plot. Of relevance was the discovery that after 1990 there was an increase in the probability of inversions during cold days and that under conditions in which the daily mean air temperature was below −15°C an inversion became a certainty. A regression model was developed to estimate the concentration of past particulate matter of aerodynamic diameter ≤ 2.5 μm (PM2.5). The model indicated past episodes of increased PM2.5 concentrations that went into decline after 1990; this was especially so in the coldest of climate conditions.