Temperature Inversion and How It Can Affect You This Winter

Posted on Nov 7 2018 - 1:00am by Ann Gillispie

a girl warming her handsNo matter where you live, the quality of the air you’re breathing indoors can be worse than the air outdoors. This might come as a surprise to you since the outside air is more exposed to pollutants such as car exhaust. Meanwhile, indoor air is subject to air conditioners which not only lowers the temperature but also filters the air to remove toxins, according to mybuddytheplumber.com.

Unfortunately, in some North American cities, air conditioning is not enough. In other places, the air quality is best during the winter when the cold traps the ozone and other pollutants in precipitation. Then, the mighty gusts of wind sweep the pollution away.

If you live in cities such as Los Angeles or Salt Lake City—cities that are penned in by mountains, creating a geographic bowl—winter can increase the amount of pollution in the air, thanks to the phenomenon called winter inversion.

What is Winter Inversion?

Most of the time, air is warmer near the surface and gets cooler high in the atmosphere. During winter, though, usually after a snowstorm, the fresh snow packed on the ground reflect the sun’s warmth back up the atmosphere, making the temperature near the surface cold and the air higher up the atmosphere warm.

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The layer of warm air above the cold has higher pressure, so it traps the cold air below. Just as the cold air can’t escape, neither can the pollution.

How Does Winter Inversion Affect Me?

Per the Salt Lake City local government, the sources of wintertime air pollution in the city are vehicular emissions (50%), area sources (35%), and industrial emissions (15%). During winter inversion, these pollutants are trapped in the cold air that you’re breathing.

Around the world, 3.7 million people die every year from the adverse effects of air pollution, according to the World Health Organization. That statistic is reflected in Utah, where ER visits spike during bad air days.

Among the most common health problems winter inversion pollution brings are:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • Heart Diseases (Coronary heart disease, heart failure, cardiomyopathy, etc.)
  • Heart attacks
  • Birth problems (Congenital disabilities, preterm births, etc.)

Winter Inversion and Indoor Air Quality

To minimize the effects of winter inversion pollution on your health, you must know its relationship to indoor air quality. Your behavior in an outdoor and indoor environment can influence the way you interact to the pollutants, too.

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If you’re wondering how the pollutants caused by the winter inversion outdoors enter your home, the most common entryways are open doors and windows, as well as cracks and gaps in the walls.

Indoor air pollution is already 2 to 5 times higher than the outdoors, so you could just imagine how worse it gets when outdoor pollutants enter the mix. With Americans spending approximately 90 percent of their time indoors (home, school, cars), according to the Environmental Protection Agency, you get easily exposed to bad air quality for long periods of time.

By making small changes to your habits and adding air-purifying equipment to your home, you can breathe easy knowing that you’re doing something to protect yourself and your family from the hazards of air pollution.