Posts Tagged ‘climate’

We Must Weather the Weather

January 5, 2010

As I continue choosing my bicycle as my main form of transportation, I sometimes ask myself the question, “is it ever going to stop raining!”  Then I stop and remind myself that despite growing-up in the desert Southwest, I now live in the Pacific Northwest.

Port Townsend, Quimper Peninsula, Jefferson County, Washington State, USA.

Living in the Pacific Northwest can come with a certain amount of joy and hardship.  The hardship can quickly be turned into joy too if you look at the right way.  I moved to western Washington because I was attracted by the promises of the Emerald State.  If you know anything about plants, than you know that they need a certain amount of water to grow (along with other things).  In the desert the plants have evolved to survive the arid conditions and are sparse.  Vice versa, in a temperate rainforest, the plants have adapted to survive rain.  They do and they thrive and are dense.

I therefore have to acclimate and prepare for a climate that receives lots of rain if I am going to survive and thrive.  These days, it can be easy to ignore the climate if you spend most of your day indoors or in a vehicle- popping out only occasionally in transition from one to another.  Only when you are stuck out that one might be reminded how poorly prepared you might be.

I have had the opportunity to live in Seattle, Bellingham, Port Angeles and Port Townsend so far.  I can see the difference in all of these place- but they are still wetter than where I grew up in New Mexico.  Why?  When you study the water cycle in 4th grade you are told that water moves in and out of various states (gas, liquid, solid) and locations (ocean, air, surfaces, streams, plants, animals, ground water, aquifers, etc).  When you look at weather maps and notice where weather (air) is coming from here in Washington, you notice it comes mostly from the west.  It isn’t much of stretch to guess that most of our moisture is picked up in the air as it evaporates from the Pacific Ocean.

What a ride it must be as a water molecule; being bombarded by UV waves from the sun until you have enough energy to break free from the liquid ocean.  As you are carried upward and eventually condense with other molecules into clouds, you are being whipped along by the winds toward looming mountain ranges of the Olympic coast of Washington (or Vancouver Island in Canada).  The more condensation of other water molecules, the heavier you “feel”.  I would be pretty worried at this point if I was trying to get over the mountains.  Sure enough, much of the rain falls as precipitation (rain or snow) as it tries to get up and over the Olympics.  Forks, WA on the coast, receives just over 121 inches of precipitation annually- nearly 17 inches of that arrives in January.  The top of the range (Mt. Olympus at 7,965 ft/2,427 m) sees 130 inches each year.

An interesting effect is what most people refer to as the “rain shadow” effect.  Just like a mountain creates a shadow from the sun, so it does with the rain.  Here I am in Port Townsend, roughly 50 miles west-northwest of Mt. Olympus and I only experience just over 19 inches annually (2.17 inches in January)- What a difference!  And here I am complaining.  I could move to nearby Sequim, where the annual rainfall is just over 16 inches.

As the clouds are thinned of precipitation they have one more opportunity to pick-up evaporated water as they pass over the Puget Sound and the Straits of Georgia. Seattle receives 34.1 inches, Bellingham gets 36.3 inches and Vancouver, BC has 44 inches.  Of course, they then have to cross the North Cascade Range and by the time they reach Eastern Washington they are pretty dry (Yakima, WA= 8.3 inches).

The jet stream plays a very important role in where air is coming from and subsequently the moisture too.  I have noticed in the winter that our weather patterns flip from northwesterly to southeasterly.  Why is this?  Does this have to do with the position of the planet in relation to the sun?  Does if have to do with the temperature differences in different parts of the world?  As the average global temperature increase, how is this going to effect climate patterns here in the Pacific Northwest?  Should we expect warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers?  Now I am curious (and concerned).

What I do know is that, “Whether the weather be fine, whether the weather be not, whether the weather be cold, whether the weather be hot, we must weather the weather, whatever the whether, whether we like it or not”  (I learned that at outdoor school).  I just have to remind myself that I like the emerald environment, salmon streams in the summer and nice snowpack in the winter and to dress better.