Geography Features The Foehn Swiss Wind

About the Foehn win, history and geography of the airflow from the Swiss and Bavarian Alps.



The foehn is an ill wind that blows, one of more than 30 "witches' winds" around the world that make people do strange things, such as beat their spouses and commit suicide. California has its Santa Ana, the Rockies their Chinook, southern France its vent d'Espagne, Chile and Argentina their zonda, North Africa its khamsin. But the foehn that whistles down the Swiss and Bavarian Alps is the grandmother wind; hence all such witches' winds are categorized as foehns (the Germans pronounce it almost like fern).

The foehn brings on dizziness, nausea, drooping eyelids, suicidal depression, blood-pressure changes, and other symptoms. Cows stop giving milk, industrial production goes down while the number of accidents goes up, good students flunk exams, husbands beat their wives, hospitals and doctors lose more patients than usual, and the murder rate goes up.

It dries up the moisture from the land and creates forest-fire hazards. And it makes distances confusing to the eye; a mountain 50 mi. off will seem to be only a few miles away.

The foehn is nothing more than a warm, bone-dry airflow that comes down the mountainsides in the spring and fall. It is a southern wind created by pressure differences on the north and south sides of the Alps. When the pressure drops on the north side, a vacuum forms and pulls the wind up the face of the mountain and down the other side. Dr. Nathan Robinson of the Israel Institute of Technology at Haifa suggests that the human distress is caused by the change in the electrical balance of the atmosphere--an increase in the proportion of atoms carrying a positive rather than a negative charge. These particles, known as positive ions, are known to disturb humans.

There is no cure for foehn sickness, though German pharmaceutical companies sell a number of patented antifoehn medicines. Antifoehn amulets and herbs are also available.

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