Chinooks: Montana's Warming Winter Winds - News, Sports and Weather

Chinooks: Montana's Warming Winter Winds

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Welcome to part two of our segment highlighting the winds of Central Montana.  Today, we're looking at a special wind that plays a major part in the weather of the Electric City.

You may have heard of Chinook winds, which impact our region more than most other areas on the planet…but you're asking, what are they?  How do they work?  Those are good questions that we're about to answer.

As westerly winds off of the Pacific build inland, they approach the Rockies.

The moist air, from the coast, ascends the western side of the mountains. As this air climbs, it cools from expansion. During the process of rising and cooling, it will lose most of its moisture in the form of rain or snow. This is why Western Montana often experiences more precipitation, with rainforest conditions.  Once this air meets the summit, it is time to head down the western slopes of the mountains, into the plains. The atmospheric pressure increases, compressing the air, leading to warming as the air descends. This warmer, drier air moves into Central Montana as the Chinook Winds.

You don't have to understand the science or even step outside to see the impacts of Chinooks.  With a couple of quick tips, you can find Chinooks on the maps you see during our weathercasts.

One of the first clues appears on the satellite and radar.  When you see snow and/or rain falling on the western side of the Rockies around Missoula and Kalispell, but it's not making it to our side of the divide, it may be a Chinook.  All of that rain and snow is falling out on the other side, just like Sarah explained a second ago.  The next clues show up with temperature and wind.  When the winds are low, you see consistently cool temperatures across the Treasure State.  When the winds are high around the mountains, you see warmer temps in that area while the calm locations see the lower temps.

The temperature rise due to the Chinooks, usually lies between 5-25 degrees - but, the most extreme recorded temperature change in a 24 hour period was recorded January 15, 1972 in Loma, Montana, when the temperature rose from -54 to 49, a 103 degree change.

There are a number of impacts that winds can have.  Some of them are helpful, while others…not so much.

Next Wednesday, we'll take a look at the benefits and negative impacts of these winds.


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