Back when we lived in Moose Jaw, I awoke one morning and noticed right away that the air had an unusual scent. I took a deep sniff and smiled. A chinook was blowing.
This weather pattern is born in the air currents moving from northwest to southeast across the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Winds suck up moisture from the water’s surface and carry it along in billowing white clouds until the air mass crashes into the North American coastline. And there the air-land temperature difference causes the clouds to dump their payload on the hapless residents below.
In western Canada this means the British Columbia coastline, including Vancouver Island and the city of Victoria. Terrific rainfall ever year! But then the now-lighter air mass rises upwards over the mountain range leaving the clouds behind to dribble onto the coast. The interior of British Columbia is desert-dry a lot of the time.
These air currents climb the mountain peaks and pick up speed sliding down the other side into Alberta. Still warm from the Pacific this air blow across the southern prairies. The Indians called these winds chinooks. If it’s winter here, a chinook can melt a lot of snow in a day, picking up the resulting moisture and carrying it along at almost ground level until the wind plays out.
Under the map of Canada above I’ve listed the southern provinces that border the US. The Rocky Mountains, for the most part, follow that squiggly line between BC and Alberta. Because of the way the Rockies angle as they run along the border of the two provinces, the southernmost chinooks sometimes blow as far east as central Saskatchewan. Moose Jaw, dead center in south SK, gets the tail end of some, whereas Regina, 44 miles east, rarely ever feels a Chinook wind.
When one is blowing, we get that classic “chinook arch” along the western horizon. Our sky is clear except for an arc of grey cloud hovering at the western edge of our world.
It was this warm, moisture-laden air I got a whiff of that morning. In the dead of winter a chinook has a pleasing smell to it! Later, when I was outside, I saw the accompanying chinook arch. A chinook means a sunny day, a rise in temperature, melting snow. We get a tiny respite from frigid winter’s grip. We prairie folks love our chinooks.
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