Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Alberta - Chinooks Winds

Over the last few months I've been featuring posts on Alberta, the province where I set most of my stories.  If you want to check out earlier posts, click here.

Today, I'm talking about weather. 

The Rocky Mountains line the western boundary of Alberta.  On the other side of the mountain range is the province of British Columbia and beyond that, the Pacific Ocean.  This environment is ripe for creating unique weather patterns.  One of these is called chinooks (aka chinook winds, chinook arches or snow eater), the word is pronounced with a "sh" instead of a "ch" sound.

Chinooks are very active in southern Alberta (approximately 20-30 per year). (I expect this phenominum extends into Montana, but you should look that up for yourself to confirm).  These are warming winds that can change the temperature by an incredible amount.  In the middle of winter, a chinook could raise the temperature as much as 20 degrees celius in an hour!  Snow banks dissolve in its path, which is a great thing to see in winter, but some people experience headaches as a result of the rapid temperature change, which isn't so great for them. 

These winds can be incredibly strong, gusting up to 100 km/hr! On those occasions, roads have to be shut down because they can blow trucks off the road and property is damaged.  This is particularly problematic on the southern highway that winds along the foothills through the Claresholm area.  Calgary has been hit with more severe winds in the last few years too, and has had to close downtown streets due to falling debris from the high rises.

Still, most southern Albertans enjoy chinooks as a warm respite.  The melting snow makes it seem that there will be an eventual end to the cold prairie winter.  Many Calgary based businesses have "chinook" in their names, such as Chinook Centre, a large shopping mall, which I think shows the good feelings associated with the winds.

A chinook arch over the Calgary skyline. (Lorraine's Photo)
Live in southern Alberta for a few months and you'll hear people wistfully talk about the chinook arch on the western horizon.  This is the first visible sign of a chinook wind arriving.  The warm winds shoot over the mountains and seem to sweep the clouds across the sky.  The arch is a steady line across the sky, with clouds on the eastern side and clear sky on the west.

Do you have regular or unusual weather events where you live?


Anonymous said...

Vivid photo! I've heard of chinook winds but never understood what they were. Weather fascinates me. How interesting that they can bring such rapid change to winter temperatures.

My writer's imagination is already conjuring ideas about those closed roads and trucks! Great fodder to use in a story, Lorraine!

patonlorraine said...

Hi, Mae! Thanks for stopping by! Yes, severe winds could be a twist on the snow bound cabin scenerio! :)

The warm chinook wind in winter is wonderful, particularly when it's been horribly cold the previous day! One thing I didn't mention, though, is that a day or two following the winds there is usually another dump of snow. Weather is pecular, isn't it? :)