Why does ‘katabatic’ mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: katabatic…

I had heard of the book The Golden Spruce, by John Vaillant, more than 10 years ago but for reasons I don’t understand, had never persuaded myself to read it. The book tells the true story of a natural wonder — a 165-ft. tree with luminous glowing needles, located in Hadai Gwaii (formerly The Queen Charlotte Islands).

Puzzlingly, this tree was cut down in 1997 by man with strong environmental beliefs and — even more puzzlingly, this man has since disappeared. The story reads like a murder mystery with healthy doses of forest economics, natural history and political science thrown in.

But the book also gave me my word of the week, katabatic. Here is how the author used it:

From the northeast come katabatic winds generated by cold air rushing down from the maintains and funneling, wind-tunnel style, through the region’s many fjords the largest of these being Portland Inlet, which empties into the strait fifty kilometres north of Prince Rupert.

I’d never before seen the word, but it refers to a drainage wind — one carrying high-density air from a higher elevation down a slope under the force of gravity. The term comes from the Greek word katabasis, meaning “descending.”

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on May 30/18.

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