The Chinook Winds, popularly called Chinooks, refer to the wind originating from the Pacific Coast during moist weather. Hitting inland and running into a barrier of coastal mountains, the wind tends to cool rapidly as they climb the western slopes up to the mountain crest and also warms in an equally rapid fashion as they drop down the eastern face of the Rockies.
What makes the Chinooks particularly curious is the impact it has on the communities they hit. This is experienced in the Great Plains of America and the Prairies in Canada. It has been noted to be most prevalent in Alberta, Canada.
As the moist air increases elevation on the Western side, it cools as it climbs to the top. Because Chinooks often have high speed, a sudden change in temperature can occur and it releases moisture as it reaches the crest in the form of heavy rain or snow. Disruption of schedules and activities may be affected due to the sudden weather change.
As the already dry air start to drop on the Eastern side of the Rockies, rapid air warming also cause very dry conditions due to sudden decrease of humidity. As a result, snow in lakes and rivers melt considerably and vegetation may not survive the rapid change in temperature and humidity. The Chinooks is nicknamed “snow eater” on the eastern side. A number of trees including the White Birch cannot survive the temperature fluctuation caused by the Chinooks. Red Belts are often found in these mountains. These are actually dried out evergreens whose needles have turned brown due to dehydration. Severe forest fires may also occur when the Chinooks hit during summer and autumn.
Soil loss may also be experienced in very strong winds due to extreme loss of moisture. Ranches on the eastern side also suffer ill-effects to livestock as the weather increases the susceptibility to pneumonia and other illnesses to cattle. Another hazard is electrocution of cattle by charged wire fences, which has been noted to have occurred, because of the strong positive electrical charge in the air.
For the people in these areas, many consider the warm air as a welcome relief from the sub-zero winter temperature. Unfortunately, the sudden gust of warm air maybe gone as fast as it comes, lasting only at most an hour, as it fights the cold Arctic air, although warming may also take a few days to a week in some cases.