We’re having a heat wave, a Calgarian heat wave.
Temperatures risin’, it isn’t surprisin’,
We’re having a heat wave.

It’s 45 degrees F today! (That’s +7 C) It’s almost tropical. Balmy, in fact.

Chinook winds occur where the Canadian plains meet the Canadian Rockies, and cause a terrific rise in temperatures within hours. “Chinook” is claimed by popular folk-etymology to mean “ice-eater,” but it is really the name of the people in the region where the usage was first derived. The reference to a wind or weather system, simply “a Chinook,” originally meant a warming wind from the ocean into the interior regions of the Northwest of the USA (the Chinook people lived near the ocean, along the lower Columbia River in Oregon and Washington).

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A strong Chinook can make snow one foot deep almost vanish in one day. The snow partly melts and partly evaporates in the dry wind.

We had snow on Sunday and today the sidewalks are clear and dry, thanks to the Chinook. The snow on the ground isn’t melting, but there is a steady musical cadence in our drainpipes as the snow on the roofs begins to melt.

The indicator of a Chinook, besides rising mercury, is a clear demarcation of the clouds, what is referred to as a “Chinook Arch.” The arch isn’t clear as I write this, but it was splendidly visible this morning.

Chinooks are known to cause headaches (called “Chinaches”) or migraines in some people. Tom and I have had headaches in the past couple of weeks, be we’re not sure if they have been related to the weather. We’re not headache people, so chances are they were caused by the change in barometer.

So popular is the Chinook in Calgary that there is a major shopping mall named after it! And I think there might be a Canadian professional sports team named the Chinooks.

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Three especially famous Chinook folk tales are probably known in some form by most people in southern Alberta from childhood stories.

  • A man rode his horse to church, only to find just the steeple sticking out of the snow. So, he tied his horse to the steeple with the other horses, and went down the snow tunnel to attend services. When everybody emerged from the church, they found a Chinook had melted all of the snow, and their horses were now all dangling from the church steeple.
  • A man was riding his sleigh to town when a Chinook overcame him. He kept pace with the wind, and while the horses were running belly-deep in snow, the sleigh rails were running in mud up to the buckboard. The cow tied behind was kicking up dust.
  • A man and his wife were out during a Chinook. The wife was heavily dressed and the man was wearing summer clothes. When the couple had returned home, the man had frostbite, and the woman had heatstroke.

I’m not ready to let go of the cold weather yet, so I hope this Chinook is just a brief interlude. Meanwhile, gotta dig out my shorts and flipflops!