East Meets West

I’m sublimating!

I have no idea why the script writers for the Wizard of Oz didn’t put those words into the mouth of the Wicked Witch of the West in this familiar scene. As she transitions straight from a green solid to a presumably noxious vapour, the Wicked Witch instead shrieks . . .

I’m melting!

Pshaw. It’s a clear-cut case of sublimation. Not in this sense . . .

the act of expressing strong emotions or using energy
by doing an activity or creating something,
or the activity or work itself

but in this one . . .

Sublimation is the conversion between the solid
and the gaseous phases of matter,
with no intermediate liquid stage.

I checked the clip again to be sure. Yeah, no. No intermediate liquid stage — no wretched puddle of melted witch — so sublimation it was.

“How did we get here?” you ask. Maybe I’m sublimating something else into this blog post, but I think it’s as simple as our snow pack being down significantly this week (Calloo, callay!). As always, there is less melt-water on the streets than I’d expect, even allowing for the ten-to-one equivalence factor, snowfall to rainfall. And as our wind speeds this week approached 60 km/hr, I was reminded of a relatively recent learning — which, at my age, means something I picked up in the last 10 years or so — that windy days evaporate snow with no intermediate liquid stage required.

 . . . in the western U.S.,
there’s a wind called the Chinook, or “snow eater,”
that vaporizes snow before it even has a chance to melt. . . .
The air is so dry that when it hits a snowpack,
the frozen water evaporates, going directly from the ice to vapor and bypassing the liquid phase entirely.
This is called sublimation,
and it’s a common way for snow to disappear in the arid West.
Dave Thurlow of the Mount Washington Observatory

Well, if anyone had bothered to ask, I would have said that the Chinook (which I’ve never before heard called Snow Eater) was a quintessentially Calgary phenomenon, bringing its distinctive arch to the horizon, migraines to susceptible people, and respite from winter to everyone else. Now I know that it gets as good as it gives, taking snow vapour with it as it dances down the Foothills and out across the Prairies.

And although the humid East doesn’t get the arid West’s Chinooks, here also a sunny and windy day eats more snow than a sunny day all by itself.

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15 Responses to East Meets West

  1. Pingback: Wring? Sprinter? | Traditional Iconoclast

  2. JIm Taylor says:

    Yup, you’re a westerner. Awareness of Chinook winds may be a mark of regional identity. Although they’re best known in Calgary, they’re known at least as far east as Regina.

    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – I did not know that they could affect the Prairies that far east. I wonder whether they get the same arch that Calgarians see over the mountain.

  3. barbara carlson says:

    You could have asked John — who knows windy days as snow eaters, for sure.

    But he has also tried to paint the mist that rises from snow on warm, calm days. Evaporation. Water first, then poof! gone.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Hahaha. I can’t believe it took me so long to learn this about wind and snow, but it makes me wonder what other everyday stuff I should know and don’t. As for snow mist, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that. I’ll keep a weather eye out. 🙂

  4. I once received writerly advice that recommended short anglo-saxon words rather than latinate words to convey surprise, terror, etc. The example was shouting “fire!” in a cinema (when we went to those) rather than “conflagration!” Another example, “flood!” rather than “inundation!” Wicked witch wouldn’t have had the time to shout “I am sublimating!”, if she knew the word.

  5. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – some day we need to have a discussion about the physics involved with how the “dew point” of the air over a snow pack is affected by moving air (wind) over that same snow pack and how that combines to more quickly cause that snow pack to disappear without turning into water first.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – I’ll get right on scheduling that. 🙂 Dew point is another thing I never understood.

      • John Whitman says:

        As I say, a discussion would be best, preferably with a beer or glass of wine in hand. Said discussion taking place on a patio would also be nice.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          John – OK, preferences noted. And concurred. (That whole preposition with some verbs and not with others that are very like might also drive some conversation.)

  6. “Discussions taking place on a patio, preferably with a beer or glass of wine in hand. . .” Now there’s an image to bring tears to post-COVID-19 eyes! You can talk about sublimations and dew points and anything else that comes to mind and your words will seem gilded, nacreous, and bejeweled.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – You set a high bar. We shall do our best to live up to it while in the bar.

  7. Sam Feola says:

    Chinook is a Rockies thing. From Calgary down to Denver, we call those winds the same. But I’ve never associated them with winter/snow (until now). However, in California, we get similar high-velocity winds off the high desert in late summer or fall (September-ish) called Santa Ana’s. Very hot. In Antarctica, they are Katabatic winds, which have a different origin of cold high-density air mass flowing from a higher elevation under the force of gravity (South Pole) downhill to the coast some 1,000 miles or more away. I personally know of 200+ mph winds.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Sam – I’ve often thought North Americans would be happier in a few north/south tranches, rather than two humongous east/west ones. Probably too late… I know that I feel very much at home everywhere directly south of Alberta to the US/Mexico border. As for the Antarctic, I am happy to experience it at one remove through documentaries. 200+ mph winds? Wow!

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