What Is An Inversion


By Brian Neudorff

Written by: Chief Meteorologist Brian Neudorff


A temperature inversion is to blame for why we are locked into this cold weather pattern. Normally, when you increaseyour elevation or height above the ground the air temperature will cool as you go up. With an inversion the temperature of air actually increases with height. The situation of having warm air on top of cooler air is referred to as a temperature inversion, because the temperature profile of the atmosphere is "inverted" from its usual state. (See image above)



The most common manner in which surface inversions form is through the cooling of the air near the ground at night. Once the sun goes down, the ground loses heat very quickly, and this cools the air that is in contact with the ground. However, since air is a very poor conductor of heat, the air just above the surface remains warm. Conditions that favor the development of a strong surface inversion are calm winds, clear skies, and long nights. Calm winds prevent warmer air above the surface from mixing down to the ground, and clear skies increase the rate of cooling at the Earth's surface. Long nights allow for the cooling of the ground to continue over a longer period of time, resulting in a greater temperature decrease at the surface. Since the nights in the wintertime are much longer than nights during the summertime, surface inversions are stronger and more common during the winter months. A strong inversion implies a substantial temperature difference exists between the cool surface air and the warmer air aloft. During the daylight hours, surface inversions normally weaken and disappear as the sun warms the Earth's surface. However, under certain meteorological conditions, such as strong high pressure over the area, these inversions can persist as long as several days. In addition, local topographical features can enhance the formation of inversions, especially in valley locations.


This will be the case for our weather over the next few days. A strong inversion will be in place thanks to a large area of high pressure over the region and nice snow back down to the valley floor. Temperatures will will remain cold at night down into the sub zeros and singe digits and highs in the mid teens to the low 20s by the weekend. 

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