following weather essays are weather columns written by weather
columnist Vince Streano for the Anacortes American.
Banana Belt or Rain Shadow?
Copyright Vince Streano, 1999
Nestled within the Olympic rain shadow, just west of the Cascade mountain range, Anacortes enjoys unusually mild weather for a community that shares its latitude with Newfoundland. Described by many as the banana belt of Western Washington, the area has mild winters, an exceptionally long spring, and summers that end too soon. Since I haven't seen a banana tree since moving here, I prefer to describe our weather as mild because of the influence of the Olympic rain shadow.
When my wife and I moved here in March of 1989 from Southern California, we were gloriously ignorant to the sudden mood swings our weather can exhibit. In Southern California the weather is extremely predictable, bordering on boring. The rainy season is from November to March, and it's sunny and warm the rest of the time. Before we moved our friends kept asking how can you move to someplace where it rains all the time?
First Snow Fall
Copyright Vince Streano, 2005
So, there I was Thursday morning, the first day of December, waiting for the first snowflakes to fall like a kid waiting for Santa to drop down the chimney. The National Weather Service had predicted snow for late in the afternoon, but I was hoping it would come earlier, so I could take pictures. By 10 AM the skies to the north were almost black. Overhead the clouds were heavy with moisture and the color of pewter. I checked the radar and could see the beginnings of snow falling to the north and west of Fidalgo Island.
Just after 10:30 the first flakes began to fall. Tiny little flakes you could barely see. Gradually they got larger, and larger, until the flakes were the size of half dollars, floating gracefully to the ground. I was awestruck by the beauty of what I was seeing. I was afraid it might be a brief flurry with a sudden ending, but the snowfall kept getting heavier. My weather station said the temperature was 36 degrees, which explained why the flakes weren't yet sticking on the ground. After twenty minutes of what I would call heavy snowfall, I called the National Weather Service on the Weather Spotter hotline to report what I was seeing. They were surprised it was already snowing in our area. The forecaster asked me the temperature and the dew point, and thanked me for the update.
Puget Sound Convergence Zone
Copyright Vince Streano, 2004
Has this ever happened to you? You get in your car on a bright sunny morning for a drive to Seattle. The weather is great, and you're looking forward to an easy drive down I-5. As you progress south on the freeway, the weather ahead looks a little gray. Around Smokey Point the clouds begin to thicken. Then you get to Everett and the weather changes to a pounding rain. What happened? It's almost like you entered a parallel universe. Everything looks the same, except the weather. Then, about fifteen miles further down the road, the universe shifts back, the sun is shining, and everything is back to normal.
What happened is that you entered the dreaded Puget Sound Convergence Zone. Florida has its Hurricanes, Oklahoma has its Tornadoes, and we have our convergence zones. The PSCZ is the most consistent, and produces many fascinating weather phenomenon. I've often wondered how convergence zones are formed, and what causes them.
Copyright Vince Streano, 2002
Keeping weather statistics is both a curse and a joy. A curse because you have to be compulsive about faithfully entering the records at the end of each day. If I take a trip, I have to find someone I can trust to record the records for me until my return. It's a joy when I can look back over the records and begin to discern patterns and anomalies that crop up throughout the years.
As we begin our summer season I thought it might be interesting to go back through my records and try to predict when it might be sunny and when it might rain, based on my records for the past five years. I was surprised at a number of facts I discovered while doing my research.
Umbrellas In Anacortes
Copyright Vince Streano, 2001
I was walking around downtown Anacortes the other day in a pouring rainstorm. Suddenly it dawned on me. No one was carrying an umbrella! Over the next couple of days whenever I went to town in the rain, which was most days, I did a mental umbrella survey. I still haven't seen one. What is it with Anacortes residents disdain for the bumbershoot? Personally I don't carry one either. Usually the rain isn't that hard, and a hat and jacket keeps me relatively dry. But lately it's been raining cats and dogs, and still no umbrellas. Maybe it's a macho thing. Are Anacortes residents too tough for umbrellas?
Since November and December are historically the wettest months of the year, you'll probably be seeing a lot more damp residents traipsing around town as they try to complete their holiday errands. This brings up the old argument of whether you stay dryer by walking or running in the rain? In an effort to keep our holiday shoppers as dry as possible, I've done a little research on the subject that I think you'll find interesting.
Fidalgo Island Micro Climates
Copyright Vince Streano, 2001
The first tendrils of fog came slithering through Deception pass like a giant octopus searching the seabed. The fog crept along the northern edge of Whidbey Island, flowed over the water until it reached Skagit Island, then retreated back to the pass. Eventually it dissipated altogether leaving behind a brilliant sunny day.
As I sat watching the fogs advances and retreats, I knew that while I was basking in bright sunshine residents on the west side of the island were shivering in the fog. That got me thinking about the various micro climates we have here on Fidalgo Island.