Weather Notebook
Bryan Yeaton

Clippers and Hooks
Fri Feb 06, 2004

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Storms, unlike trains, do not run along fixed tracks at scheduled times - but they do often take fairly predictable routes from the same basic point of origin, which may explain why meteorologists name them as if they were trains. Hi, I'm Bryan Yeaton for The Weather Notebook.

Two of the most colorful names - Alberta Clipper and Panhandle Hook - belong to a pair of North American winter storms. If you live in the Upper Midwest, you're probably familiar with the Clippers - fast-moving moisture-starved storms that zip down from Alberta and careen east across the northern tier. Panhandle Hooks start out farther south. After gathering steam in the Oklahoma panhandle, they veer sharply northeast toward the Great Lakes. The great blizzard of January 26-27, 1967 that plastered Chicago with nearly two feet of snow was a classic Panhandle Hook.

Different as they are in geography and track, Clippers and Hooks have one essential element in common: both originate as low pressure systems that form east of the Rocky Mountains. As the upper level flow descends the Rockies' eastern flank, the air warms by compression, and as it warms the pressure at the surface drops. The result is a phenomenon known as a leeside low. The lows that form in the lee of the towering San Juan range in southern Colorado become Panhandle Hooks. Clippers are launched in the magnificent Alberta peaks of Jasper and Banff.

Though they generally don't dump much snow, clippers and hooks do plunge temperatures dramatically. Though their names sound rather folksy, these storms can pack a dangerous wintry wallop.

Thanks to David Laskin for today's story. Our show is supported by The National Science Foundation, and Subaru of America. Special funding comes from Davis Instrumenrs, makers of the Car Chip: a black box

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