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WEATHER U: The science behind the ‘suetes’

The large Colorado Low sits over Nebraska and will soon start to have an impact on our weather.  The clouds will push into northern New Brunswick this evening with a risk of freezing rain by morning. There is a strong pull of warm air coming with the system so the mixed precipitation will quickly change to rain.  Across much of Atlantic Canada, rainfall totals will range from 10 to 25 mm; higher totals are expected along the southwest coast of Newfoundland.  The cold side of the low will bring 5 to 10 cm of snow to Labrador. A trailing cold front will swing down across the region on Sunday with a significant drop in temperature; we’ll be talking wind chill again early next week!
That was some wind, and Karen Aucoin was able to show us how windy it was. Before sunrise on the morning of February 25th, a wind gust of 200 km/h was recorded in Cheticamp N.S.

I get a lot of mail. These days most of it is email, but every now and again, a letter is delivered to my office. I love it.

That happened on Monday. The letter came from Nicolaas DeVries of Clementsport, N.S. In his letter, DeVries pointed out the word “suetes” is not in the dictionary and asked if I could explain.

Les Suêtes is an Acadian phrase used to describe a very strong southeast wind that occurs in an area along the western coast of Cape Breton Island; most common in Inverness County, north of Mabou.

The name is a contraction of the French wind direction "sud-est" or south-east.

These winds develop ahead of a weather system as it approaches from the south. The counterclockwise flow ahead of the system sets up a southeasterly wind that pushes up against the Cape Breton Highlands. A local funnelling effect causes compression and the wind intensifies as it travels up and over the mountains. It gushes down the other side to the coastal plateau along the Gulf of St. Lawrence at triple the initial speed; these wind gusts often reach 130 km/h and have been known to gust to 200 km/h. Local fishermen report these winds can extend as far out as 25 kilometers offshore.

While it can be windy, few areas are prettier or more welcoming; I visit every chance I get. If you’ve never been, you must add it to your bucket list. A few years ago, while visiting the lovely town of Cheticamp, N.S. it finally happened: I experienced les vents suetes.

Several times a year, this weather phenomenon unique to the Cape Breton Highlands blows through and my timing was perfect.

After a hike along the iconic Skyline trail I checked into my room then went for a bite to eat. The people were warm and welcoming and the food reminded me of dinner at memere’s. All that fresh air tuckered me out so it was an early night.

About six hours later, I was awakened by what could only be described as a roar. I thought the motel was going to lift off the ground; the walls were actually vibrating. It was only 4 a.m. but that was the end of my sleep. I was so excited to have experienced the “suetes winds.”

At breakfast, I spoke to many local residents about the thrill of the overnight winds. They smiled, and politely said “that was nothing, just a light blow.” Later that day I checked the wind gusts and they had peaked well into 90 km/h. Imagine the power of those winds, when 90 is nothing more than a light blow!

Cindy Day is the chief meteorologist for SaltWire Network.

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