Inversion perversion

Smog covers Salt Lake City as an inversion lingers on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017.

It might be the longest four-letter word in the English language.

“Temperature inversion.”

Nothing gets you in the holiday spirit quite like air you can actually see — and very nearly feel and taste, as well. And this week, according to the experts, Northern Utah’s famed winter inversion is only going to get worse.

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As Christmas approaches, meteorologists are breaking the bad news: It’s beginning to look a lot like we may not get a white Christmas this year — maybe more of an off-white Christmas. Or a sort of brownish-gray.

Egghead scientist-types tell us that an inversion occurs when a layer of warmer air settles atop a layer of colder air, trapping airborne pollutants close to the ground where we end up breathing them into our lungs. Of course, scientists are also trying to convince guys like me of global warming when the weather widget on my smartphone currently registers 24 degrees.

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I like to think of these soupy inversions in another way: You’ve heard of the practice of giving someone a “Dutch oven”? (And we’re not talking about the cast-iron cookware here.) Well, at the risk of being indelicate, a Dutch oven in urban lingo is the cruel prank of breaking wind in bed, then holding the covers over your bedmate’s head, forcing him or her to smell your flatulence in a small, enclosed space.

So then, just think of these inversions as Mother Nature’s way of giving us a climatological Dutch oven: Except in this case our cars and factories and wood-burning stoves are the ones producing all these noxious fumes and particulates; Mother Nature is just the one holding our heads under the bedcovers until we cry “Uncle!”

You’d think Brigham Young might have seen this one coming before he so rashly told his people that the Salt Lake Valley was “the right place.” I mean, the guy who had the foresight to lay out a city with extra-wide streets, and leave spots for modern-day elevators in the Salt Lake Temple, could have at least said: “Except for about five weeks each winter, this is the right place.”

So, what will it take to get rid of our current inversion? A storm to blow through the region, clearing out the stagnant air. Meteorologists say there’s the possibility of a “weak weather system” later this week that could provide some relief, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Wait. On second thought, you may actually want to hold your breath.

Until March.

I should be asking my fellow Mormons to take their usual prayers for “moisture” and convert them to a plea for a “strong, inversion-busting weather system.” But then, I’m not a great believer in God as some sort of cosmic short-order cook, fielding requests from mortals to provide us with climate-controlled comfort.

Besides, I have a feeling I already know what his answer to such prayers would be. Probably something like:

“Lemme getteth this straight, children. I giveth thee a really great planet to inhabit, and you basically act like it’s a cheap hotel room and you’re Keith Moon? You people waste more energy than any 10 previous civilizations. You insist on driving your horseless chariots everywhere, even to church — which is only three blocks away. And then you leave your vehicle idling while waiting at the grocery store or shopping mall because you’re just too darned slothful to shut it off and go inside where it’s warm.

“Even in the summer, you water your lawns like you’ve got a rice paddy growing out there. Plus which, you vote in politicians who think ‘environmentally responsible’ means pouring their used motor oil into the gutter, rather than flushing it down the toilet.

“In short, you people continue to foul the air and the water and the land with more and more pollutants, doing precious little to exercise wise stewardship over the planet. And then you expect me to swoop in and save you ingrates from a mess of your own making? Art thou high?

“Tell you what: Instead of sending you the cleansing storms you’ve been praying for, how about I direct a nice plague of locusts or fiery hail your way, just to get your attention?”

With the exception of two years going door-to-door in the South, I’ve lived here in Utah since 1971. And while plenty of folks find plenty of things to complain about in this state, I can honestly say that the only major downside to living around here is our poor air quality in the winter.

And the sad part is, we could do something about these inversions if only we had the personal and political willpower. Mass transit remains an untenable joke for many of us. Companies continue to resist alternatives to the daily commute — like four-day work weeks, or telecommuting. And we seem utterly unwilling to get tough on emissions from factories, diesel engines, idling and poorly tuned vehicles, etc.

So instead, we continue to suffer through these ugly, deadly temperature inversions, all the while patting ourselves on the back for tackling the really important public health crises facing us. Like pornography.

How do I feel about this? Frankly, a slightly shorter four-letter word comes to mind.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at

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