They say a heart never lies; well, neither do my nostrils. It stunk this morning, plain and simple.

A foul odor filled the air over Houston Monday morning thanks to a burn off at industrial plant in the Channelview area. The burn off created a cloud that settled in over the city for hours.

The reason for your funny face and crinkled nose is two fold: wind direction and a post-frontal inversion --- a layer of warm air above the surface. I'll touch on that in a moment.

Ahead of Sunday's cold front, the winds over southeast Texas were from the south and southwest. That was the driving force behind our record breaking temperatures last weekend. On Sunday evening a cold front moved through the area shifting our winds to the east with a slight southeasterly component. Therefore anything that was burned off was transported into the city.

Here's a GoogleMaps image: arrows represent wind direction.

Courtesy: GoogleMaps
Courtesy: GoogleMaps

The other reason this smelly particulate hung around is because of what we call an inversion. They're easy to spot on a partly cloudy day. When you see the sky filled with little cottonball-like cumulous clouds that have no height to them at all, that's a clear sign of an inversion. The clouds can't rise because the air above them is warmer. Clouds, ozone, pollution or any other particulate matter can only wash out if the air is colder above.


On Monday morning a weak inversion was present over the city of Houston. That trapped anything being burned off near Channelview to hug the surface instead of lifting out of the area. It wasn't until the sun came out around noon that warmed the surface temperatures a bit and the inversion was removed. That allowed the air quality to improve and the smell to lift out.