Foehn wind

Definition of Foehn Wind

A Foehn wind, alternatively spelled as Föhn wind, refers to a warm, dry down-slope wind that manifests on the leeward (downwind) side of a mountain range. This type of wind emerges as a byproduct of adiabatic heating of air that has relinquished most of its moisture on windward slopes. Owing to the differential adiabatic lapse rates of moist and dry air, the air on the leeward slopes is warmer compared to air at an identical elevation on the windward side.

Formation of Foehn Winds

The genesis of Foehn winds takes place when moist air ascends over a mountain range. As this air rises and cools, condensation occurs and its moisture content is discharged in the form of rain or snow on the windward side of the mountains, a phenomenon termed as orographic lift.

Subsequent to the moisture loss, the now dry air starts its descent on the opposite side of the mountain (the leeward side). As this air descends, it undergoes compression and heating, a mechanism recognized as adiabatic warming. The outcome of this process is a warm and dry wind sweeping across the valleys and plains beyond the mountain range.

Effects of Foehn Winds

Foehn winds can significantly modify local climatic conditions and profoundly affect human activities. They have the capability to usher in agreeably warm weather during cooler seasons, yet they can also precipitate swift temperature rises, instigating snowmelt and localized flooding.

These winds possess the potential to drastically influence wildfire behavior, accelerating spread due to the hot, dry conditions they introduce. Moreover, in alpine environments, Foehn winds can trigger avalanches as a result of rapid warming.

Foehn sickness denotes a collection of health symptoms encompassing headaches and migraines, irritability, and fatigue that some individuals associate with Foehn winds, although scientific confirmation for this correlation is not definitive.

Foehn Winds Around the World

Across the globe, Foehn winds bear various names. In North America, specifically in the Rocky Mountains, they acquire the title of Chinook winds. In Argentina, they receive the moniker of Zonda winds, while in New Zealand, they are recognized as the Nor'west arch. Irrespective of the diverse nomenclature, all these winds exhibit the fundamental characteristics intrinsic to a standard Foehn wind.
Updated: May 31, 2023
Published by: Weather U.S. | About Us