Utah Climatologist Robert Gillies said with pride Friday that he was able to predict the inversion that recently hit Cache Valley.
“We nailed it — we ran the model two weeks (out) and said, ‘Oh yeah, it’s going to happen,’” said Gillies, who also serves as a professor at Utah State University and director of the Utah Climate Center.
Gillies recently helped develop a forecast model alongside the center’s assistant director, Shih-Yu (Simon) Wang, that can predict winter inversions for as far out as a month. Their findings have been published in a scientific journal with the American Meteorological Society.
Gillies said the forecast models could help people in Cache Valley and around the state.
“I’ve had a few emails that said, ‘If I had family coming in, I would not want them here during an inversion event.’ It could be very useful for preparedness,” he said. “The other aspect of it is: Will it alter driving behavior? Will it drive industrial output behavior?”
He said if people know about the weather ahead of time, they can better plan.
“It allows better risk management, and it may be personal, or it may be business,” he said.
Gillies said the question of whether his models will be used by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for widescale use is not clear.
“That’s usually a very long process,” he said.
However, the forecast models will likely be put up online sometime next year, when they can put the data out in a way that is easy for the general public to understand.
Of the model, Wang said, “In this case we were able to go beyond the common weather forecasting limits, which is five days. We found ... we could have a month-long predictability, a good performance to tell if an inversion would last five days or longer, or would occur or not.”
The two USU researchers are not ready to say if there will be another inversion soon, but will run the model again sometime next week.
Inversion episodes come when high pressure creates a seal and traps particulate matter, like vehicle emissions.
Pressure can hold the pollution there for long periods of time.
The air quality throughout Northern Utah earlier this week was measured as among the dirtiest in the nation, as the inversion that has plagued the region for days continued.
On some days in the past week, Logan’s average PM 2.5 pollution has measured into the 70s and 80s in micrograms per cubic meter — well beyond the federal 35-microgram air quality standard.
“People say, ‘Whatever we do, we’re going to have inversions,’ but the thing is we can control what is contributing to the PM 2.5, and we know that a major source is automobiles. So we could make a difference,” Wang said.
Gillies said the forecast models he created is not perfect, and the work on future models continues.
“It’s not foolproof by any means. There have been a few misses,” Gillies said. “Potentially, if we were able start focusing on a longer time scale where we could say, ‘Next year will be a strong inversion event, or the year after,’ (that) is probably where we will go.”
Comment at hjnews.com