Chinook

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chinook

The name given to the foehn in western North America, especially on the plains to the lee or eastern side of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada.

On the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains the chinook generally blows from the west or southwest, although the direction may be modified by topography. Often the chinook begins to blow at the surface as an arctic front retreats to the east, producing dramatic temperature rises. Jumps of 10°–20°C can occur in 15 minutes, and at Havre, Montana, a jump from -12° to +5°C in 3 minutes was recorded. Occasionally the arctic front is nearly stationary and oscillates back and forth over an observing station, causing the temperature to fluctuate wildly as the station comes alternately under the influence of warm and cold air. As in the case of any foehn, chinook winds are often strong and gusty. They can be accompanied by mountain waves, and they can occur in the form of damaging downslope windstorms. The air in the chinook originates in midtroposphere above the ridgetops, and its warmth and dryness result from subsidence. When moisture is present, a variety of mountain-wave clouds and lee-wave clouds can form, such as the chinook arch of the Canadian Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. The chinook brings relief from the cold of winter, but its most important effect is to melt or sublimate snow: A foot of snow may disappear in a few hours. As with the foehn, researchers have attempted to classify chinooks as downslope winds with warming and boras as those accompanied by cooling. Again, these schemes have produced limited success because of the many ambiguous or erroneously classified cases.

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