National Treasure #26: Chinooks

Maybe I’m being a little nationalistic with this one. It turns out that Chinook winds are named for a Native American tribe, the Chinooks, who lived along the Columbia River.

But I’m sure that Canada gets the bestest and mostest Chinooks, even though Wikipedia tells me that they can occur as far north as High Level in northern Alberta and as far south as Albuquerque in New Mexico.

I first encountered them in Calgary when I moved there from Edmonton between Christmas and New Years, 1959. The story was that Calgary had these occasional respites from winter, and so it proved to be.

As hard as they can be on plants – “Woohoo! Let’s bud out! Never mind that it’s January: It’s warm!” – and as tricky as they can be for driving conditions, these “warming winds,” as Wiki calls them, are worth all the trouble they cause.

Warming winds? Damned with faint (and unimaginative-to-boot) praise, I call that. As memories and foretastes of the halcyon days of spring, they are blessings that keep us going. In the middle of a Prairie winter, nothing lifts the heart quite like that unmistakable arch atop the Rockies.

Chinook arch framing mountains, west of Calgary

Chinook Arch


This is one of a series on Canadian national treasures – my sesquicentennial project. They reflect people (living and dead), places and things that I think are worth celebrating about our country, and are done in no order of precedence.

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4 Responses to National Treasure #26: Chinooks

  1. Kate says:

    Great picture and description Isabel 🙂

  2. Judith says:

    Of course Chinooks belong to us in Southern Alberta! Other possible chinooks are not awaited with certainty every couple of weeks through the worst of the winter. We do feel cheated when they don’t come “on schedule”. I’ve heard there is a similar phenomenon in Switzerland and north Africa – imagine a chinook across the desert! (Wherever warm wet winds blow from the west over mountains, physics dictates dumping rain and coming over dry. Who needs physics to enjoy a wonderful break mid-winter?!)

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – The Big Guy suggested that maybe chinooks were more of a regional treasure, but I figure a confederation is like a marriage: What’s yours is mine! Re the physics of weather, I remember studying basic weather patterns (Grade 9?) but have no memory of anyone connecting the dots between that wind up and over the mountains and our very own chinook winds. Maybe I missed it . . .

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