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They happen in Montana, in Alaska, in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  And they happen here.

Strong, warm winds that can raise the temperature by 30 degrees in a matter of hours, that can turn a foot of snow into a mudpile in half a day.

That can create knee-weakening migraines in strong women.  That can cause sleeplessness that makes a morning bed look like a tornado roared through overnight.  That can make the general population irritable as a porcupine in a hurricane.

Their arrival is heralded by a unique cloud ridge that perches behind the mountains.  If you didn’t know what you were seeing, you’d think that a huge storm was coming in.  But if you thought that, you’d be mistaken.

There are similar wind phenomenon across the world.  I thought that they were essentially all the same thing, but research has shown me that they are all characterized by slight, yet significant, differences in areas of origin, flow patterns, and the resultant changes to the atmosphere that they cause.

The Diablo Wind, a strictly California breeze, sucks the humidity from the air and increases the risk of fire danger by enhancing the updraft heat from existing sparks.  It is strongest on mountaintops, complementing its companion, the Santa Ana wind, which thrives in the California canyons.

The Santa Anas, common in late fall and winter in Southern California and Baja, can be hot or cold, but are known for blowing strong enough to clear the smog from Los Angeles – a herculean feat.  Strongest at sunrise and sunset, they, like the Chinooks, are known as a disruptive force of emotional nature.  And if you’ve had a big night on the town, they can contribute to a whale of a hangover.

The Foehn Winds, also known as snow-eaters, and seemingly the original version of Chinooks, are found in central Europe, and contribute to the milder, warmer climate of those countries.  The Foehn wind has the honor of being the first subject of research on the psychological, nay psychotic, impact of wind on the human spirit, by 19th-century physician Anton Czermak.  While not clinically confirmed, Fohnkrankheit (Foehn-sickness) can be seen as an indication on German-made aspirin bottles.

The Foehn winds are known as Zonda Winds in Argentina, Lyvas winds in Greece, Bergwind in South Africa, Favonio in Italy, Hnúkaþeyr in Iceland, and the Nor’West Arch (most commonly occurring in summer) in New Zealand.  New Zealand environmental scientist Neil Cherry stated, “About 10% of people affected by the nor’wester feel elated and wonderful.  But the rest feel depressed, irritable, and lacking energy. People feel they can’t cope with everyday things…There is irrational anxiety and a sense of foreboding.”  Huh.  Maybe that’s why a friend was telling me yesterday that he had a general feeling of unease.   Not that we’re in New Zealand, but it seems the same principle applies to these winds in all countries.

(Please check out other wonderful works from this artist, Annette Abolins, at

While I can’t find clinically validated research online regarding the impact of wind on mental health, it’s clear that it’s been noted all over the world, and the “myth” that wind causes unusual behavior has been perpetuated in modern-day film and literature.  The winds create positive ions, which do have a tendency to make people feel “bad”.  Even without documentation, I know the Chinooks have effected me since I moved here, and I see that they effect Kelsea as well.  

The only time I was ever able to feel a sense of peace and purpose to the wind was after I started sailing – with that newfound love came an understanding of the wind as something positive and powerful that can help us move through life.  Since the Captain’s passing, however, that feeling has departed as well.

Native American mythology considered the wind to be a living being that communicated with those who would chose to hear its unearthly voice, such as shamen and medicine men.  As I feel that my feet are kicking up dust at the beginning of a shamanic path these days, perhaps it is something I need to think more about, to journey on.

I am sure that any wisdom I could gain from the wind spirits would be beneficial – perhaps lesseing my desire to take an automatic weapon to stupid drivers, which is how a lot of my irate emotions manifest on Chinook Days such as today.

Please pardon the kitteh’s french.  Unfortunately, it sounds a lot like what I was saying this morning.  Think I’ll take some duct tape with me when I go pick Kelsea.

April 2010


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