Warmer temps expected before next big freeze

Obscured by gray air, trees along the Colorado River display how thick the inversion of polluted air has become this month.

That copper-colored smoggy layer sitting like a lid on the Grand Valley should clear out in the next couple days, thanks to an incoming cold front. Some relief can’t arrive soon enough. Air quality that had been moderate so far this winter season dipped to “unhealthy for sensitive groups” during the past two days, according to Ed Brotsky, air quality specialist with the Mesa County Health Department.

“We’re at the mercy of the weather,” he said. “When we don’t get above freezing, that’s ripe conditions.”

The haze that makes views of Grand Mesa and the Uncompahgre Plateau appear murky occurs when pollutants get trapped in the Grand Valley. With widespread snowfall on the ground, sunlight bounces off the snow, keeping temperatures in the teeth-chattering range.

Without snowmelt, the air temperatures cannot warm up, contributing to—you guessed it—the dreaded inversion.

The Grand Valley has been thrust into the icebox with below freezing temperatures since Dec. 18, said Joe Ramey, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

Grand Junction should top the freezing mark today, as warm air circulates before some colder temperatures creep in tonight through Saturday, he said.

“What we like to say is, it takes a cold front for us to warm up,” Ramey said. “The front portion of storm we’ll have some mild southwest winds that will start to turbulently mix and eventually pop out our inversion. I plan to go outside in a T-shirt.”

However, short-sleeved weather isn’t expected for long, Ramey said, and it’s only a matter of time before the Grand Valley submits to another inversion.

One to two inches of snow are expected on the valley’s floor with the weekend storm. Six inches to a foot of snow are expected in the mountains.

Snowfall may be accompanied by high winds, with gusts of up to 50 mph. Ramey said the National Weather Service considered issuing a blizzard alert for the local mountains, but officials wanted to wait and see whether enough moisture fell to warrant the warning.

“That’s our biggest gun to pull,” Ramey said, about issuing a blizzard alert.

Still, Ramey said, snowfall is needed as our area still is in extreme drought. At this point, February looks like it will be dry, but more moisture is expected by April, Ramey said.

Snowpack was 74 percent of normal at Mesa Lakes on Wednesday, according to the National Resources Conservation Service.

“Nobody’s talking about drought, but we’re still in a drought,” he said. Ramey joked “We’ll work on producing as much snow as possible.”


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