Perhaps I’ve become too Swiss. That often happens to immigrants. We learn facts about our new homeland and become upset when the born and bred don’t adhere to what we’ve learned. Last week I wanted to call the radio station to point out that we weren’t suffering from the Bise that they kept announcing. It was obviously the Bise Noire.
Unlike the Bise, the Bise Noire is an autumn and winter wind that approaches the lake at a right angle from the North Sea. It’s gusty and gets its name, black bise, from the low-lying clouds and diminished light it sets upon our city.
Yesterday we had a Bise blowing. The clouds disappeared, the temperature dropped and the sun was shining. The coolest thing about this wind is that it likely blusters for 3, 6 or 9 days. Due to the angle of the wind, the Bise brings big waves and water spray that in winter can freeze into magnificent ice sculptures.
Opposite to our northerly wind is the Foehn (hairdryer in German). My Austrian neighbor taught me about this wind since it’s typical in our two countries. A strong, hot and humid wind builds up on the south side of the mountains. By the time it reaches the valley, it has lost all its precipitation in the peaks and has become hot and dry. People often complain of migraines the Foehn invokes. I blame our 2015 heat record on it (41C / 106F).
Due to the shape of our lake and location of the mountains, we’ve got a whole slew of winds with names. The sailing maps outline La Vaudaire that comes from the Rhone valley into the Haut-Lac and part of the Grand-Lac yet leaves three quarters of the lake calm. Thunderstorms in neighboring France, cause either the violent Bornan between Rolle and Lutry or le Molan in the Petit-Lac. Then there are winds that start in Geneva (le Vent and la Maurabia) but leave dead zones in the center of the Haut-Lac as the wind turns back toward Geneva.
If you’re not a sailor, you don’t need to know all these winds. But if you know the difference between the Bise, the Bise Noir and the Foehn, you’ll already be a lot smarter than those radio announcers.
By the way, I recommend reading the blog La Bise by FranceSays which discusses the irony of the French names.
We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland. If you would like to learn more about our activities and excursions, visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/
Lucie Dean said:
This is so cool!
I never would have known this!
Since the Bise started Sunday, it will be interesting to see if the winds pick up again today for Day 3.
Just got back from walking my dogs in a blindingly cold ‘bise noire’ to find a notification for your pingback. In our corner of the lake, at the end of the ‘petit lac’, the winds today seem less violent but even colder than yesterday. I’d almost forgotten about that post but it is clearly still relevant. Thanks for sharing!
I loved that post. I thought of it while in Iceland two weeks ago. The wind (>120 km/h) and blowing snow was ferocious. “They” say there are a 100 words for wind in Iceland. But I think Geneva is up there, too. I cam across a list of at least ten different night breezes that aren’t even described in the sailing books.
You would also look and sound a lot smarter if you displayed images that showed temperatures in Geneva in CENTIGRADE, which is what they, and 95% of the modern world uses
Exonumia, since our blog has international readers, I displayed both Centigrade and Fahrenheit. Perhaps that is not so obvious, so I edited my sentence. I have to admit that even though I’ve adapted to centigrade in the 30 years I’ve lived in Europe, there is something impressive about 106!
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Alpenhorn, I’ve been in Geneva for almost 3 years now and pretty much every time I turn to the internet to help me figure out something about this city or Switzerland in general, one of your posts tops the search list! Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned since you’ve been here, it’s greatly appreciated.
I was also impressed by your gracious reply to Exonumia’s fairly aggressive comment about Centigrade/Fahrenheit – you are an internet example to us all!
Jude, thank you so much for your comments. You have made my day!
Julia Schmitz-Leuffen said:
And sometimes the locals do know. I had always thought (and I’ve been here since 1973!) that the “bise noire” was simply a worse “bise”, but turns out that I had it all wrong. It’s a question of pressure systems and direction: the “bise” is created when the pressure in Güttingen near Lake Constance is higher than in Geneva. It can occur at all times of the year and usually brings dry cold weather. The “bise noire” is caused by a high-pressure system in the Atlantic and a low-pressure system in the Mediterranean and almost always produces wet, humid conditions.Who knew? There are also a lot more winds on the Leman Lake and many an ocean sailor has used it as practice for seemingly worse conditions.
Julia, this is a fantastic explanation of the the two Bise. I had no idea that the normal Bise is a reaction to Güttingen’s pressure.
I admit I didn’t dare work backwards to the scientific explanations of the winds because then I would need to know what causes the low and high pressures. Once I understood that I’m sure there would be even more questions with answers that become less and less tangible. I don’t do well with intangibles.
In fact while writing this blog I had a hard time not sharing every good, scary or interesting experience I’d had on the lake with the various winds listed in our sailing book.
Thank you again for explaining!
Peter della Valle said:
Your report is interesting, just please don’t blame locals for our ignorance- we are very busy here to make our living in that expensive country, and we can’t know everything. Unfortunately the time when we sat on the knees of our grandma 👵 and grandpa 👴 to learn about our country, has definitely ended in the time when we rather follow all our social media’s … thanks for your understanding and go in enjoying our wonderful home country Switzerland 🇨🇭
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