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Fog or smog? Although “inversion” can come to the Wasatch Back, it’s not always what you think

Sarah Ervin/KPCW
Thursday's fog was an inversion, but not like what you see in the Salt Lake Valley.

Heavy fog blanketed the Snyderville Basin Thursday morning. While it looks a lot like pollution, a combination of cold weather and temperature inversions are to blame for the phenomenon.

If you’ve driven from the Wasatch Back to Salt Lake City this week, you’ve probably noticed a distinct layer of smog lingering over the city as you drive down Parleys Canyon.

Salt Lake City is infamous for its winter inversion. Meteorologically speaking, inversion is when a layer of warm air traps a layer of colder air closer to the ground.

On Thursday morning, a thick fog blanketed the Snyderville Basin. ABC 4 Meteorologist Thomas Geboy says although that fog was an inversion, it was not the same as what is seen in the Salt Lake Valley.

“When you travel up to the Wasatch Back and you get around Heber and Park City, you’re a mountain valley, so you’re going to also have the potential to see some inversion as well, but it’s not necessarily the same at Salt Lake City, even though a strong inversion can go over the top,” says Geboy.

He says smog is possible in the Wasatch Back, especially if there’s long periods of calm weather. According to air quality aggregator PurpleAir.com, the air in the Wasatch back has been pretty good this week, with small pockets categorized as “moderate” or “unhealthy” for sensitive groups. The Salt Lake Valley, on the other hand, is almost entirely classified as unhealthy.

Geboy says with weather expected to move into the state later this week, look for air quality to improve by this weekend.

“It’s not that surprising that we’ve seen a little bit in the Wasatch Back because of how prolonged the high pressure has been, but with this system coming in, any inversion or haze in Park City or Heber should clear out pretty quickly with this system coming in," he says. "It’s easier to clear things out when you’re at higher elevations.”

Snow is expected to move into the Wasatch Back Thursday night into Friday.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.