Sunday, December 26, 2010

Into the Inversion

So we've managed to get an impressive amount of snow out here in the Great Basin Desert.

Even the old-timers are saying things like, "I haven't seen this much snow since my aunt wrecked the car by driving into a snow drift and then had to walk five miles home in a blinding blizzard (uphill), but instead she got lost and went in circles (uphill) for three hours, and then it was really like ten miles she walked (uphill), and she only survived because the Christmas star came out and guided her the rest of the way (uphill)."

Okay, nobody said that.

But I have heard a couple comparisons (or hoping that we aren't going to be compared) to the winter of '48-'49, which was a really bad one. So much snow fell and blew--and blew--that most of the roads in the area were closed and lots of livestock were stranded out in the range. Ranchers couldn't get out to check on them, because each time they started off from home in their Caterpillar dozers, the snow blew back over their tracks and they risked getting stranded themselves.

Sheepherders in lonely sheep camps couldn't even go far from their tiny abodes because of the deep snow. They despaired as they saw more sheep dying each day and they were helpless to do anything about it. They relied on the radio to get news of what was going on in the outside world. And fortunately they got news of something to help them out: Operation Haylift. The U.S. Air Force came out to help, dropping hundreds of tons of hay in western Utah and eastern Nevada. This real-life event took place using C82 "flying boxcars." You can read a pretty good account in this Time article. Hollywood also made a movie called Operation Haylift, using some real footage, and you can find it on Netflix.

Somehow I've managed to digress, because the real topic of today's post is the inversion we've had the past few days. I guess being in all the frigid weather with deep snow has put me in a wee bit of a gloomy mood with regards to weather.

Up high on the mountain, the weather has been great. It's snowy there, too, of course, but the sun is out and trees are emerging from their wintery weight.

Down in the valley, it's been a different story. Instead of the warmer weather being at the lower elevations, like it usually is, the temperatures have inverted, with a cap of air keeping the cold air down in the valley. Those cold air molecules have sunk, and they're trapped until we have wind to blow them out.

Entering an inversion is kind of an interesting process. You start out in the nice sunlight and see the cloud layer below. On the other side of the valley you can see the mountains poking out above the clouds, looking like islands in the mist.

The cloud layer made me think of the time when vast Pleistocene lakes, some as big as today's Lake Michigan, filled the valleys in the Basin and Range country. That was back in the days of the wooly mammoths, dire wolves, camelids, two different horse species, and an array of other animals that made their home here. Paleoindians roamed the area, hunting these animals. It was cooler and wetter than recent millenia.

We've gotten so much snow that the bushes are entirely covered, appearing as white hummocks from a fast moving vehicle. Or from a slow crawl. Or anything in between. This is the kind of weather you expect in Montana, not in Nevada.

The road straightened and the layer of clouds started looking more ominous. I could still see the mountains on the other side...

...but not for long.

It sort of felt like a bad horror movie. You know what's going to happen, but you just can't avoid watching it happen.

And then, there it was: the road disappearing into the clouds. And I was hurtling myself into it.

Help! Stuck in the inversion!

Fortunately this inversion cleared out in a few days. We don't have pollution stuck under the cloud layer with us (like Los Angeles frequently does), so although the colder temperatures (about 15 degrees colder that day in the clouds from up in the sun) and gloomier light might make everyone feel a bit grumpy, it could be worse.

When Desert Boy got up Christmas morning and asked why our stockings hung by the fireplace with care weren't filled with goodies (he had heard from a neighbor that they would be, and then I had promptly forgot), I considered telling him Santa Claus couldn't come in for a landing in the inversion. But I didn't. I chose distraction instead. Hopefully that was the right thing to do.


The Incredible Woody said...

Sending wishes for sunny weather your way:)

jendoop said...

Oh, inversions are something I don't miss about the SL valley. There were some that would go on for a month! Your pictures there are much more pretty than the grey dirty snow that usually was the vista for inversions there.

G. Robison said...

Heh. I wonder if Operation Haylift is what inspired my dad to join the USAF. He would have been 16, attending WPHS, and heading off to college and AFROTC the next year. It had to have been big news and lots of excitement at the time, though I don't recall him talking about it when I was a kid.

A said...

What???? Wasn't Desert Boy a good boy? Why wasn't his stocking filled with goodies?!!
I hope he got the goods, even if it was a bit late.

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