Even though not particularly high in comparison to other more well-known mountain ranges, the Tatra Mountains located in southern Poland are strongly affected by the local climate, and therefore can be extremely dangerous to those who’d underestimate their size or their nature. It’s usually advised to avoid trekking or hiking during the days when the wind called halny is blowing.
Halny is a foehn type of wind caused by warm winds bumping into the Tatras from the South (from the Slovakian side) and forcing upwards in a great speed, resulting in a drastic change of weather on both sides of the range. Typically, the halny is bringing heavy rains on Tatras’ southern side (Slovakian), and dry warm winds on their northern side (Polish). In Poland it’s affecting primarily the region of Podhale, but sometimes reaching as far North as the city of Kraków and as far West as Bielsko-Biała.
Halny is a well-known phenomenon in that part of Poland, appearing usually during the colder months of the year. It’s famous for being strong and reaching even hurricane speed, easily up to 150 km/h (~93 mph). The strongest recorded halny so far occured in May 1968, when it destroyed large areas of local forests blowing with the speed of even 270-300 km/h (~186 mph) – it was dubbed ‘the wind of 20th century’ in Poland.
On the Polish side of the Tatras halny is typically accompanied with a drastic change of the air pressure, sudden (but temporary) rise of temperature, drop in humidity, and quick transformation of the weather. In the highest parts of the mountains, it’s able to accumulate thick clouds that rapidly worsen the visibility, what can be even deadly in combination with the force of the wind. It can easily knock down trees or tear off roofs. It also causes sudden thawing what can result in unpredictable floods during early spring or avalanches during winter.
By the locals in the region of Podhale, halny is infamously known for bringing a drastic downgrade of general wellbeing: sometimes strenghtening the symptoms of migraine, depression, heart dysfunction, breathing problems or even aggression and psychosis (all caused by the sudden change of the atmospheric pressure, humidity, and temperature combined).
Advertisement of popular Tatra beer with scenes showing stereotypes about people behaving during the Halny. Direct link: youtu.be/KB2OQM03T7g
Trailer of a movie “Idzie halny” (tranls. “Halny Comes”); direct link: youtu.be/ftvi7_AYeDg
In the old days the Polish highlanders were commonly saying that ‘with the halny wind a devil is coming‘. People are becoming more restless, easier to argue and fight. Local urban legends tell about people becoming mad during that time, even commiting murder or suicide, or being ‘called by the winds’ and disappearing into the wild woods – to never come back again.
On a regular basis, many people are suffering from heavy headaches when it appears.
Local beliefs and legends were agreeing on one: the wind is cursed. There was plentiful of stories. Some said that the strong wind was blowing each time a witch died. Some said that the halny was caused by dragons living up in the mountains, waving their wings. Some said that with the wind demons were coming, riding on horses and messing with peoples’ minds. Others, that halny was caused by devils dancing on the rocky peaks.
Because of the heavy mood swings, people believed that halny was ‘predicting’ unfortunate events or illness. They were making sure to protect themselves, and many carried a talisman or a rosary when going outside after the wind came. They were whispering prayers or magickal words, and spitting three times to the back over their shoulders (a common Slavic practice to avert misfortune and protect from the evil). They hung herbs and garlic over the doorframes – a protection not only from halny but also from demons and from general evil.
Sources / to read more in [ENG and PL]:
- Małgorzata Śliwińska, Dominika Cianarek : “Very strong foehn winds in the Tatra Mountains (Polish Carpathian Mountains) – causes, course and consequences” [PDF link]
- Iwona Koszewska, Ewelina Walawender, Anna Baran, Jakub Zieliński, Zbigniew Ustrnul: “Foehn wind as a seasonal suicide risk factor in amountain region”, in: Psychiatria i Psychologia Kliniczna 2019, 19 (1), p. 48–53
- Christine Zuchora-Walske: “Poland”, 2012
- Jeremy Nichols: “Poland”, 2005
- Katarzyna Ceklarz, Urszula Janicka-Krzywda: “Czary góralskie: magia Podtatrza i Beskidów Zachodnich”, 2014
This article is a revised and supplemented version of my old text about halny, first published here.