Foehn wind

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For the antiaircraft rocket projector, see Henschel Hs 297.
How a föhn is produced

A föhn or foehn is a type of dry, warm, down-slope wind that occurs in the lee (downwind side) of a mountain range.

Föhn can be initiated when deep low pressures move into Europe drawing moist Mediterranean air over the Alps.

It is a rain shadow wind that results from the subsequent adiabatic warming of air that has dropped most of its moisture on windward slopes (see orographic lift). As a consequence of the different adiabatic lapse rates of moist and dry air, the air on the leeward slopes becomes warmer than equivalent elevations on the windward slopes. Föhn winds can raise temperatures by as much as 14 °C (25 °F)[1] in just a matter of minutes. Central Europe enjoys a warmer climate due to the Föhn, as moist winds off the Mediterranean Sea blow over the Alps.

In German-speaking countries, where popular superstition attributes all kinds of illnesses to various movements of air, the föhn is associated with causing "circulatory problems" and headaches. There is no scientific proof of such a link.


Winds of this type are also called "snow-eaters" for their ability to make snow melt or sublimate rapidly. This snow-removing ability is caused not only by warmer temperatures, but also the low relative humidity of the air mass having been stripped of moisture by orographic precipitation coming over the mountain(s).

Föhn winds are notorious among mountaineers in the Alps, especially those climbing the Eiger, for whom the winds add further difficulty in ascending an already difficult peak.

They are also associated with the rapid spread of wildfires, making some regions which experience these winds particularly fire-prone.

Anecdotally, residents in areas of frequent föhn winds report a variety of illnesses ranging from migraines to psychosis. The first clinical review of these effects was published by the Austrian physician Anton Czermak in the 19th century.[2] A study by the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München found that suicide and accidents increased by 10 percent during föhn winds in Central Europe.[citation needed] The causation of Föhnkrankheit (English: Föhn-sickness) is yet unproven. Labeling for preparations of aspirin combined with caffeine, codeine and the like will sometimes include Föhnkrankheit amongst the indications.[citation needed][3] Evidence for effects from Chinook winds remain anecdotal.


Main article: Rain shadow
The warm moist air from northern Italy stops on the windward side, loses much of its water vapour content, and descends on the French plateau and valley of the Mont-Cenis range in the Maurienne valley

The condition exists because warm moist air rises through orographic lifting up and over the top of a mountain range or large mountain. Because atmospheric pressure decreases as altitude increases, the air expands and cools adiabatically at the dry adiabatic lapse rate to the point that the air reaches its dew point. Dew point is the temperature at which condensation begins at a given pressure and humidity. (Weather forecasts sometimes indicate humidity levels by giving a dew point at ground-level pressure for a given location, which says at what temperature dew will start condensing on the ground.)

Upon reaching the dew point, water vapor in the air begins to condense, with the release of latent heat from condensation slowing the overall rate of adiabatic cooling of the air to the saturated adiabatic lapse rate as the air continues to rise. Condensation is also commonly followed by precipitation on the top and windward sides of the mountain. As the air descends on the leeward side, it is warmed by adiabatic compression at the dry adiabatic lapse rate. Because the air has lost much of its original water vapor content, the descending air creates an arid region on the leeward side of the mountain.[4]


The name Foehn (German: Föhn, pronounced [ˈføːn]) arose in the Alpine region. Originating from Latin (ventus) favonius, a mild west wind of which Favonius was the Roman personification[5] and probably transmitted by Romansh: favuogn or just fuogn, the term was adopted as Old High German: phōnno . In the Southern Alps, the phenomenon is known as föhn but also Italian: favonio and Slovene: fen. The German word "Fön" (without the "H", but pronounced the same way), a genericized trademark, also means "hairdryer," and the form "phon" is used in French-speaking parts of Switzerland and in Italy to mean "hairdryer" as well.

Local examples[edit]

Regionally, these winds are known by many different names. These include:

The Santa Ana winds of southern California, including the Sundowner winds of Santa Barbara, are in some ways similar to the Föhn, but originate in dry deserts as a katabatic wind.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Peter Camenzind, a novel by Hermann Hesse, refers, at length, to the Alpine Föhn.
  • The Föhn was mentioned by Queen's lead guitarist Brian May while talking about the band's grim Munich recording studio experience in 1982.[9]
  • The Föhn is used for the letter F in "Crazy ABC's" from the album Snacktime! by the Barenaked Ladies.
  • The threat of the Föhn drives the protagonists Ayla and Jondalar in Jean M. Auel's The Plains of Passage over a glacier before the spring melt. The pair make references to the mood altering phenomena of the wind, similar to those of the Santa Ana wind.
  • In Southern Germany, this wind is supposed to cause disturbed mood. Heinrich Hoffmann notes in his book Hitler Was My Friend that on the evening of September 18, 1931, when Adolf Hitler and Hoffmann left their Munich apartment on an election campaign tour, Hitler had complained about a bad mood and feeling. Hoffmann tried to pacify Hitler about the Austrian föhn wind as the possible reason. Hours later, Hitler's niece, Geli Raubal, was found dead in his Munich apartment. It was declared that she had committed suicide though it had conflicting testimonies from the witnesses present.
  • A foehn wind is responsible for the grounding of a US Navy destroyer off Greenland's west coast in the Second World War novel The Ice Brothers by Sloan Wilson.
  • It's mentioned as a surprise change in weather during the ascent of Switzerland's Eiger in the book The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian.
  • The föhn blowing through Zurich torments the characters in Robert Anton Wilson's Masks of the Illuminati.
  • Joan Didion explores the nature of various Foehn winds in her essay "The Santa Ana".
  • "Foehn" is a magic spell that deals wind/heat damage in Star Ocean: The Second Story.
  • "Foehn" is the last word in A Nest of Ninnies, a 1969 novel by John Ashbery and James Schuyler. Ashbery claimed that he and Schuyler chose this particular word because "people, if they bothered to, would have to open the dictionary to find out what the last word in the novel meant." [10]
  • In the 1985 Italian horror film "Phenomena" Donald Pleasence's character offers the Foehn winds as a possible cause of Jennifer Connelly's characters sleepwalking.
  • "The Foehn Revolt" is the name of a faction in Mental Omega, a popular modification for Command & Conquer: Yuri's Revenge. The name sybolises that warfare changes like the wind, as the in-game faction uses the most modern weaponary to defeat its arch enemy "The Epsilon Army" .

See also[edit]


  • McKnight, TL & Hess, Darrel (2000). Foehn/Chinoonk Winds. In Physical Geography: A Landscape Appreciation, p. 132. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-020263-0.


  1. ^ "South Dakota Weather History and Trivia for January". National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office. February 8, 2006. See January 22 entry. 
  2. ^ Giannini, AJ; Malone, DA; Piotrowski, TA (1986). "The serotonin irritation syndrome--a new clinical entity?". The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 47 (1): 22–5. PMID 2416736. 
  3. ^ See the documentary: Snow Eater (the English translation of Canadian First Nations word phonetically pronounced chinook).
  4. ^ Whiteman, C. David (2000). Mountain Meteorology: Fundamentals and Applications. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513271-8. 
  5. ^ Concise Oxford Dictionary, 10th edition, Oxford University Press, entry föhn.
  6. ^ "Wind Names". 
  7. ^ Romanić; et al. (2015). "Contributing factors to Koshava wind characteristics". International Journal of Climatology. Bibcode:2016IJCli..36..956R. doi:10.1002/joc.4397. Retrieved 20 August 2015. 
  8. ^ Romanić; et al. (2015). "Long-term trends of the 'Koshava' wind during the period 1949–2010". International Journal of Climatology. 35 (3): 288–302. Bibcode:2015IJCli..35..288R. doi:10.1002/joc.3981. Retrieved 20 August 2015. 
  9. ^ "Brian News - September 2012". 
  10. ^ "Paris Review - The Art of Poetry No. 33, John Ashbery". 

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