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Nature’s Design in the Sky

blog michael binkley

I am currently in Longview, Alberta, Canada looking after my parent’s house and animals while they are away on their annual ski holiday. Longview is situated in the heart of Canadian cattle country in the Foothills of Alberta. This is the area where the great Canadian plains to the east give way to the towering Rocky Mountains to the west.

The Foothills can see snow every month of the year, though it is rare to find it during the summer. In winter, temperatures can vary from minus 40 degrees to 12 degrees above and can change from one to the other in a matter of hours. When the weather goes from deep freeze to warm, it is known by the Aboriginal word, Chinook.

Cold Arctic air will flow from the north and settle in the Foothills, dropping the temperature. A Chinook is a phenomenon that occurs when warm air from British Columbia blows in over the Rockies. One can first see it coming, as the distant peaks will be blurred as snow is blown off their tops and thus eastwards. But the most dramatic show is the forming of “the Arch”.

One such Arch formed yesterday as the clear, warm western air pushed against the cold clouds. The Chinook is strongest in the Longview area, so the peak of the curve of clouds is usually above this area and eases off to the north and south. The cloud pattern looks like a taut bow and the warm air an invisible arrow. Arches will only last a few hours, before the whole area is warmed, and then the clouds will break up and dissipate. Such was the case yesterday, as the temperature went from minus 12 to plus five in a few hours.

I am always awed at the vastness of the Arch, as seems huge overhead. Its powerful design is amplified by the utter silence that accompanies it. Though strong forces are at work, they occur very high above and one hears nothing on the ground.