Saturday, January 29, 2011

Alberta Clipper

One of my guilty pleasures is watching the Weather Channel.  Twenty minutes on there can keep me quite fascinated.  The vast land mass of Canada, and indeed North America, offers phenomenal weather patterns and endless variety.  I might be a meteorologist in my next life (or a successful guitar-playing singer-song writer, or a long-legged but completely sane and drug-free actress, or a complete brainiac who finally discovers the cure for lots of horrible and debilitating diseases - look, I haven't decided yet).

So three times this winter, I have heard the term "Alberta Clipper" and I now offer you my quite inexpert understanding of this expression:

IT'S A STORM!  Let's add some snow in there. And some wind.  And drop the temperature too while we're at it.

(Taken from the Environment Canada website)

The Alberta Clipper is not really something that happens in Alberta - rather it originates from Alberta and causes havoc over much of the rest of Canada, especially the middle prairie provinces.   Should I offer an unreserved apology right now on behalf of all Albertans?

You've heard me mention the Chinooks before - warm winds that spread across southern Alberta and raise our temperatures considerably.  In very simplistic terms, the Clipper appears to be the side effects for everyone else. And it ain't pretty!

So this week here in Alberta, we have had some sunshine and warmth (up to 13 degrees) and the spring fairies tease us that this winter lark is nearly over.  Not bloody likely!  We've awoken to about 8cm of new snow this morning - but I think we might get off lightly.

Here's the science part:

An Alberta Clipper is a fast moving weather front of low pressure, usually occurring from December through to February.  It takes it's name from 
a) the fact that it appears to originate in Alberta, and 
b) the fast moving clipper ships from years gone by.

The air picks up moisture from the Pacific Ocean to our West, and then the resulting warm, moist air travels across British Columbia to the Rockies.  When it hits the mountains, the air has to travel upwards (sometimes dumping snow on the BC side) - then it comes down the lee side of the mountains into Alberta - bringing us our warming Chinooks.  As the air continues to travel at some pace eastwards towards the prairies, it mixes with all the regular winter cold air hovering over Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The entangled air becomes a storm and gets caught up in the jet stream, and produces windy, blizzard, white-out conditions in it's wake, with accompanying frigid temperatures with dangerous windchill - though, surprisingly, little actual snow because there is little moisture left in the storm air.  These storms work their way through the eastern provinces of Canada, and also affect some of the US states to our south east - Montana and the Dakotas especially.  When the Alberta Clippers hit the Great Lakes, this usually results in great dumps of lake-effect snow.  Sorry!

I'll stop there but you get the general idea.  So when the Weather Channel presenter mentions the Alberta Clipper, everyone who lives to my east should prepare themselves for a brutal couple of days.  

I suggest a couple of books, chocolate, tinned goods, cuddly scarves, screen-wash and wine.  Not necessarily in that order.


  1. Your skills are wasted Ann - perhaps you should apply to Global and do their Saturday morning weather segment - the roving reporter they have at the moment seems to get all the choice assignments, delivering the weather at the Farmers Market while eating apple pies and chocolate covered strawberries! Sounds like it could be a career direction that you could pursue.


  2. Hey, Albertans don't apologize to nobody for our kickass Clippers! Take THAT, Eastern Canada! Yes, we're resentful and aggressive and will never forget Trudeau's National Energy Policy, not in a million years, LOL.

  3. So, being about four hours east of you, I now know who to blame for the snow falling non-stop since yesterday evening? It's you!!
    Well, now that I know that, and now that I've been out once today and am now back inside with my snoring dog, I can relax.
    Knowing who to blame - yep, that really helps!
    -- K

    Kay, southeastern Alberta
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  4. no need to apologize were tougher than that we can suck it up.

  5. Ooooooo, yes! The weather channel is hypnotic. I like it too.

    I had never heard of the Alberta Clipper. Your description makes good sense as does Flossie's career advice! Yum!

  6. Thanks for the meteorology lesson. I'm terrible at understanding anything scientific at all. I just know that when I hear we're getting an Alberta Clipper, I need to make sure I have lots of milk in the house and go into hibernation for a few days!

  7. flossie - OMG - that's it - I am the next roving weather reporter - and back to the studio ... ! LOL

    Debra and anonymous - OK, that's it, we kick butt - no apologies required.

    Kay - sorry, but no more sorries, I've been told! Ha ha.

    marnie and knitwit - thank you - hypnotic, that is the word. Oh and anything I can do to help - dead scientific me, hey?!

  8. Terrific job on the explanation of the Alberta Clipper! When we lived in southern Alberta, we loved the chinooks. Unseasonably warm temperatures and rapid melt of the snow! Loved it! Aside from the wind, that is. We don't often get a chinook here in Edmonton, sadly.

    I am a new follower, Frostbite and Sunburn. Glad to have found you!

  9. Hi Shirley - thank you for your kind comments, and welcome!! Yep, Edmonton misses out on the winter warmth, but I think you guys make up for it in the summer warmth!

  10. But I wouldn't need to learn how to ice-sail?


Sorry humans, but I have had to reintroduce the word verificatin thing again due to an inordinate amount of crappy spam. As usual though, I love to hear from you so please feel free to leave a comment. You don't need to have a Google account - you can leave a message with your name or anonymously if you wish!