Why Do Grand Valley Winters Feel So Harsh?

Finn Witham, Editor

Wintertime in the Grand Valley can often feel cold, gloomy, suffocating, and gray, especially after periods of snowfall like those recently seen in early January. Stubborn patches of snow and ice, cloudy skies, brown landscapes and frigid air seem to dominate the area well after Christmas. While many may attribute this to the normal weather changes of winter, the Grand Valley actually does experience heightened winter downsides due to a weather phenomenon known as inversions.
To understand inversions, one must first understand how air currents normally move. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), air closer to the ground usually warms up due to geothermal heat from the earth and sunlight, causing it to rise and cool down higher in the atmosphere. But, inversions flip this trend when air closer to the ground cools down and stays put, “trapped” by warmer air above.
For an inversion to happen, temperatures must stay cool and wind speeds low in order to allow cold blocks of air to stay put. They are also normally accompanied by low-lying fog. The Grand Valley is in a unique position to experience inversions because it is surrounded by mountains on all sides and winters here tend to be cold and dry, creating perfect conditions to trap cold blocks of air. As NWS meteorologist Mark Miller told The Daily Sentinel, inversions are “pretty common” during wintertime in Mesa County.
Inversions are not just a concern for the moods of residents aching for activity and warmer weather, they also present a pollution problem. Stagnant cold air can trap any emissions in the air, worsening air quality and potentially causing health issues. Miller continued to say that these pollutants can’t be filtered out by ordinary masks. During inversion conditions in early January, this prompted the Mesa County Public Health department to request residents not use wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, and idling cars during the inversion.
Oftentimes, the colder months seem like the best time to curl before a fire and many are tempted to keep engines running rather than sitting in a freezing car. However, when the skies are hazy (especially in the morning), fog is persistent, and cold, gray weather looms, it’s best to keep emissions in check. Beyond this, inversions really only represent an inconvenience for those who love the outdoors.
But, while many residents despise Grand Valley winters, others take advantage of the change. Senior Lauren Geer reported that, “I actually don’t mind the winters here. It can be a nice break from how hot our summers are, and it can be refreshing to go out and run or hike in the cold.”
Senior Sophie Howe agreed, saying, “I don’t love the winters in Grand Junction, but I like winter itself because you can go up to the mountains and ski and enjoy clearer weather up there.”
Either way, the unique winters of the Grand Valley bring with them an equally unique mix of changes and opportunities, both good and bad. Regardless, the next time you’re tempted to switch on a fire or stay huddled inside during the seasonal blues, maybe go outside and embrace the frost. You may just gain a new perspective on it.