March 14, 2012

Chinook Winds Are True ‘Snow Eaters’

A: You sometimes hear of “Chinook winds.” What are they?

Q: Chinook winds are those that bring warm air to an area and temperatures can rise in a hurry, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. “Chinook is an Indian word meaning ‘snow eater’ and that’s exactly what these types of winds do,” McRoberts explains. “Chinook winds usually occur in the Rocky Mountain states and throughout Canada. They form after a very intense cold spell and they can be remarkably fast in raising temperatures. In 1972 in Loma, Montana, a Chinook wind raised the temperature from -54 degrees to 49 degrees, the greatest temperature change ever in the United States, in a 24-hour period.”

clouds in the formation know as teh chinook arch

A Chinook arch over western Canada

Q:  Are Chinook winds strong?

A: They can be very strong, adds McRoberts. “Chinook winds tend to sweep down the sides of mountain ranges and they can reach hurricane force,” he says. “In Alberta, Canada, a Chinook wind was clocked at 107 miles per hour in 1962 when it raised the temperature more than 30 degrees in one hour. Chinook winds have been known to derail trains in Canadian mountain passes. They can also produce spectacular cloud formations called archs, which have bright, distinctive colors like few other clouds. ”

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Weather Whys is a service of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University.

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