It’s a crapshoot, really.
The first day of spring and you could be looking out your window right now to a lovely bird-chirping sunfest, the big blue sky warming fields of smiling crocuses. Or you could be huddled in your kitchen, a blizzard of epic proportions raging outside, the wind and snow trying desperately to hang onto winter. Or it could be anywhere in between. But one thing is for sure here in the centre of the universe this time of year, that mysteriously beautiful, oddly ominous arch will always appear in the western sky.
It can give you a seriously wicked headache, and it happens 30 to 35 times a year.
No, it’s not a bad hangover or a declined credit card. Most people call it a Chinook. I just call it the wicked wind from the West.
I recently did intensive research on the “meteorological phenomenon afflicting the western interior of North America where the plains and the prairies meet the mountains” by intensively clicking on Wikipedia on the Interweb, and I found out many very interesting and many quite boring factoids.
Like for instance, (interesting factoid) the Chinook got its name from the indigenous Chinook people in the area who called the sudden warm dry winter wind that whips over the Rocky Mountains into southern and Central Alberta “snow-eater.”
And: (boring factoid) the Chinook wind conditions create an anomaly along the horizon which is actually a band of stratus clouds due to orographic lifting.
Regardless, here in the trough of the mighty Rockies we often get blessed relief from the frozen hell of winter, and a sure sign of spring when a Chinook wind rolls through like a traveling salesman hawking snake oil, leaving town in the dead of night after having temporarily tempted us with relief and happiness.
The good news is the sudden warming wind can cause people to feel energized, and psychologically lighten their mood, like a new episode of The Office, or a Mocha Espresso Double Latte.
The bad news is that it’s been proven scientifically by various scientific scientists that Chinooks can also cause a sharp increase in migraine headaches. And not only that, this weird wind can cause “irritability” and “sleeplessness,” similar to having a spouse with a toothache.
The bad news for the good news and the good news for the bad news so to speak is that Chinooks are always temporary – like a successful federal government program.
A “snow-eater” wind can temporarily appear from nowhere in the middle of a dark frozen snow-infested winter and melt entire snowbanks in just a few hours.
It has been known to temporarily cause frigid winter temperatures to leap a record-setting 40 degrees Celsius in just a few minutes. Which unfortunately immediately causes the IQ of migraine sufferers to drop to an identical score of 40, and those with irritability and sleeplessness to immediately get snippy with innocent retail clerks for no apparent reason.
The next time that tell-tale Chinook Arch hangs its breathtaking, soul-stirring knife-edged cloud-curve along the western horizon, the world will be a different place for a while.
The temperature will shoot up like the blood pressure of a parent with teenagers, and the oddly tepid wind will be in your face like bad breath, and suddenly we’re all in the middle of a bi-polar population full of blissful manic happy people bumping into miserable depressed grouchy people.
Just think – for the duration of the Chinook, it will be all about overly joyful people mixing with overly grumpy people. Like the crowd at the end of a Flames vs. Oilers hockey game.
So if you awake in the middle of the night, wrenched from a desperately-needed deep sleep by some unseen force of nature, don’t be alarmed. It’s just the bad wind. And this time it’s not the bad wind from the dog sleeping at the foot of the bed, his stomach rumbling after digging into the garbage again.
Although canine malodorous gas can certainly cause sleeplessness, irritability and headaches in humans, this time, it’s just a “Chinook.”
If you’re one of the lucky ones who find the warm Chinook winds exhilarating and uplifting, we here in the Grouch Zone envy you. Because while you’re out frolicking in your T-shirts in the balmy magical breeze, we’re huddled in blankets in cold dark basement rooms with emergency supplies of migraine medication.
You’ll know which ones we are. About 30 to 35 times a year, we’re the ones talking about moving to the Okanagan.
Harley Hay is a local filmmaker and freelance writer.