All Weather News

Fast Moving Snow & Clipper Ships

16 Dec 2013, 5:28 pm

December 16th, 2013

Have you been watching WeatherNation lately? If so, you’ve probably noticed we’ve been talking about quite a few 1-2″ snow events for northern sections of the nation.

These particular storms come in over the course of a few hours, leave an inch or two of snow (sometimes more), and then in a few hours they are gone.

Those storms are called “Alberta Clippers.”

Let’s explain why.

First, you need to know the origins of the word “Clipper.” We’re not talking about Blake Griffin & Chris Paul of the NBA’s LA Clippers (although they are pretty fast, too). Instead we’re talking about clipper ships.









Here is a direct quote from Wikipedia about the American Clipper Ship:


“A clipper was a very fast sailing ship of the 19th century that had three or more masts and a square rig. They were generally narrow for their length, could carry limited bulk freight, small by later 19th century standards, and had a large total sail area. Clipper ships were mostly constructed in British and American shipyards, though France, Brazil, the Netherlands and other nations also produced some. Clippers sailed all over the world, primarily on the trade routes between the United Kingdom and its colonies in the east, in trans-Atlantic trade, and the New York-to-San Francisco route round Cape Horn during the California Gold Rush. Dutch clippers were built beginning in the 1850s for the tea trade and passenger service to Java.

The boom years of the Clipper Ship Era began in 1843 as a result of the growing demand for a more rapid delivery of tea from China. It continued under the stimulating influence of the discovery of gold in California and Australia in 1848 and 1851, and ended with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.”


The key thing to keep in mind was that they were FAST.

Now, transition from sailing vessel history to weather now.  Look at this image of forcast snow over the next 3 days:












ee the shaded (whites & light blues) section from eastern/northern Minnesota through Wisconsin, northern Illinois, and all the way into the Ohio Valley and beyond?  That is the path of our quick hitting snow.

The final piece of why the formal name for what we call “clippers” is the Alberta Clipper?

Well, it’s because the energy from those storms usually breaks off and travels from the Canadian province of Alberta.


So there you go.  As an aside, if you have storms originating in Manitoba or Saskatchewan, they are known as the Manitoba mauler or Saskatchewan screamer.

We’ve got more of them coming in the next few days (the evidence is in that snowfall forecast map you saw above), so stay tuned!

WeatherNation Meteorologist Aaron Shaffer @ashafferWNTV

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