The San Luis Valley is famous for cold winter temperatures, potatoes, Great Sand Dunes National Park and high winds. Any month can be very, very windy, but March usually wins the prize.

Yesterday we experienced a lovely Rocky Mountain phenomenon known as the “Chinook.” The word has several meanings — it’s a type of salmon, a type of people, a helicopter — but out here it is a particular wind. We all understand it to mean a warm wind from the west that can melt a foot of snow in a day. It was blowing yesterday, raising our temperatures to 12 C (50 F).

It’s not usually a hard wind, and people generally welcome it. When I took Bear out for our walk I felt the Chinook immediately. For the first time in months I was not wearing a goose down sweater, Buff and cap, just a fleece lined sweatshirt.

“Chinook, Bear,” I said. She shoved her nose into the soft snow remaining on the golf course, unimpressed. I savored the sight of my ski trails memorialized in snow now too soft to ski.

“Those were the days, Bear.”

Once out in the big empty, I looked across the fields at the two “town” mountains — Pintada and Bennet — and saw the unmistakeable signs of chinook on their shining, white summits. “Summit” is a relative term here. Bennet is a 12k foot hill and Pintada is a thing of beauty shaped something like a gentle ocean wave.

A chinook wind is a lovely thing even if you like snow, never want it to melt and are sad at the coming of spring.

“The warm wind kept blowing
…like a low chant from the land
or like the flurry of far wings…
lapping up the snow…
until the whole body of earth
lay brown and breathing
except for the topknots of buttes
and, away and away,
the high float of mountains…
Promise of Spring.”

A.B. Guthrie, Jr., from These Thousand Hills.

Chinook wind in Montana

16 thoughts on “Chinook

  1. How beautiful. Many regions have their trade marks. Ours is the “Föhn” a warm wind blowing giving some people headaches and other aches or pains. I find tht difficult to understand, but I was never one to suffer under the weather. Mr. Swiss is, although I don’t think the ideal weather exists for him 🙂

    • 🙂 In California there are Santa Ana winds which are awful and they, too, are said to cause people all kinds of maladies. My theory is that they dry the air and people get mildly dehydrated and cranky as a result.

  2. Hi Martha. Glad to read a post of yours after a long time. It was just me being absent from the blog not you not writing… Just wanted to tell you it’s nice to “hear from you” again 🙂

    • I haven’t been reading and commenting as much — I tried to step away completely for a while, but it really upset my old dog’s sense of reality not to have me sitting here typing first thing in the morning with my cup of coffee. Strange. Nice to see you, too!!!! 🙂

      • I hear you. Same here. I think sometimes it’s just nice to check in, maybe post and then “withdraw” and see what happens without making ourselves really visible to whoever is online at the moment.

  3. Oooh I had no idea that Chinook had this meaning (I just knew it was a salmon…) I am certainly not feeling the Chinook today. The wind was biting on my way to work, despite the beautiful blue sky!

    Enjoy the warmth Martha!!

  4. Ah yes, the Chinooks. Know them well. As you may recall from your years on the Front Range, our winds are often worst in January. That’s most often when the 100mph gusts hit.
    Enjoy the warm before the storm, if you’re awaiting the weekend snow we are expecting. Fresh snow, Bear and Martha. Wax em up!

    • Several times a year, usually but only in winter. The link in my post explains how it happens. Warm wet air from thePacific coming over the mountains hits the comparatively still cold air that’s already here and pushes it out. There’s often a storm afterward.

Comments are closed.