Reporting from a downtown Hood River coffee shop, Temira Wagonfeld, wades through fact and fancy, leaving no innocent bystander un-harassed in her search for answers (and opinions) about the ‘Gorge Inversion.’
“If I give you a quote, can you make it go away? It’s so depressing,” whined Meredith Meskin when I asked her what she thought of Hood River’s winter weather phenomenon, the inversion layer. Meskin owns a hydroponic greenhouse in The Dalles. “Nothing grows under the inversion layer,” she complained.
Don’t know what the inversion layer is? Look up. Feel the cold air. Can you drive south, east, or west to find the sun? If you answered yes, you’re trapped in the inversion. What is it? According to Ron Pedersen, self-proclaimed “fill-in weather guy at Portland’s KGW,” cold air, dense and heavy, drains (think gravity) to the lowest possible point – the Columbia River Valley. Once there, it’s trapped by warmer air aloft. Vertical convection ceases, and gloomy, gray fog forms from moist soil and humid air. Once in place, the inversion only breaks up if a weather system moves through, usually a system bringing rain and another type of gray, clouds.
The inversion may be purely a weather phenomenon, but that doesn’t stop local residents from having their own theories. “It’s those damn cows in Boardman,” asserted a Hood River resident. “We didn’t have this inversion before they opened that 50,000 head ranch out there. All that methane causes this smog.” “It’s the dams,” said another. “The river should be cold this time of year, but it’s not because the dams don’t allow the warm water to drain. This makes the fog.” A similar theory came from a local DJ. “If the water was running still, the air would move as well and we wouldn’t have this fog.” Another theory: “It’s the coal plant out east,” explained one old-timer. “We’ve had twice as many inversion days since they started pumping out all that pollution.” Never mind that the plant closed three years ago. All inversion layer theories don’t involve man-made influences. The imposing rock walls of the central gorge, according to one local, are a source of universal energy that draws in the fog and holds the cold air in the river valley.
The weather frustrates Gorge residents, who already suffer seasonal affective disorder from the near-constant rain, and miss out on the sunny days that Portland occasionally gets. Just a couple of their comments: “I’m so sick of it I could scream”; “I’m pissed off at the inversion”; “I don’t really care for it much”; “Nobody looks good in this light”; I’m not a depressed person, but the inversion layer is depressing.”
Only one person I ran into didn’t get fired up by the inversion talk. This stoic coffee-shop employee, whose serotonin levels probably soar from constant exposure to caffeine, smiled at my inquiries. “[The inversion] is what it is. Everyone looks good under this light. I have yet to see anyone who doesn’t look good in gray.”
That’s probably the only healthy attitude towards the weather. After all, we could remove the dams and get rid of 50,000 cows, and the inversion would still be here. The best we can do is embrace the gray and hope it really does make us look good!