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Archive for the ‘Weather’ Category

Snow in Seattle

Friday, January 20th, 2012

I had almost despaired of getting any good snow this winter. Saturday teased us with a brief flurry in Wallingford, which dropped about an inch on the plastic chairs outside of Irwin's Bakery. Monday sent more snow at us, and for a day the tantalizing possibility of "Snowmageddon" hung in the air, before being downgraded. But after the snow began to fall early Wednesday morning, it just didn't want to stop. Here in Fremont it never reached a full-on blizzard, but the snow remained steady most of the day.

Sarah and I walked around the neighborhood that afternoon, taking pictures and enjoying the change of pace. There were only a few cars on the streets; people brought out whatever makeshift sleds they could find — we saw garbage can lids, plastic bags — even a cookie sheet was pressed into service. People were friendly, perhaps because the only ones out wandering the streets were those who were determined to enjoy it. We devoted the rest of our day to drinking tea, and watching the snow accumulate outside our windows. After night fell it grew even more peaceful. The snowflakes fell past the streetlights in endless succession.

Early Thursday morning the freezing rain hit. This is hardly a positive thing from a practical standpoint — a snowy road merely wants to impede your uphill progress, whereas an icy road actively tries to kill you. It causes power outages and property damage from ice-clad tree limbs breaking. However, from a photographic perspective, the thin layer of ice adds a new vibrancy to everything, refracting light at the edges of all the plants, preserving the delicate forms in clear amber. Against the white of the snow, and the shadows of trees and buildings, it's perfectly irresistible.

So I went on a meandering walk to our local tea haunt, Teahouse Kuan Yin. On the way there, I stood beneath a large cedar tree, trying to find a picture of ice on its leaves. At the time, the major precipitation was small, light ice pellets instead of snow, and I noticed that the tree gave no protection against them. Unlike rain and snow, which change their character as they fall against a tree, accumulating on the edges, or coalescing into bigger drops, the ice pellets just bounced through it like a giant rain stick. They made a sound, too, a light rattle, a little like falling grains of sand. I thought of the tree as an hourglass, slowing time for the ice crystals on their way toward the ground, and it was strange and otherworldly.

The one thing I regret is that I didn't have skis. When I walked up near Fremont Peak Park, I felt that the most amazing thing would be to ski the backstreets of Upper Fremont, to glide past parked cars and around the traffic circles, and then fly down the slopes of Fremont's ridgeline. I hope I'm prepared the next time we get snow like this.

Mountainous Thoughts

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

One of the great things about our apartment is that we have an excellent view of Mt. Rainier. On clear days it provides a nice backdrop to the skyscrapers. Even on cloudy days we can often see the snowy lower slopes beneath the overcast.

I was wondering to myself why this was possible in Seattle, where Mt. Rainier is in the vicinity of 50 miles away, but not in Portland, where Mt. Hood is a mere 30 miles away. (These are straight line distances estimated using Google Maps.) Rainier is about 3000 feet taller than Hood, but I wouldn't think that would affect the visibility of the slopes. Both cities are at approximately the same elevation.

The only explanation that I can come up with is that since Rainier rises much more quickly out of the surrounding landscape, the clouds have the opportunity to bunch right up against it. In Portland you have foothills for quite a ways, and the clouds bunch up against hills that are much farther away from the mountain. Nice and simple, at least.

Really, I'm not sure. I would like to know, but I wouldn't know who to ask. It could even be that I just have more experience with Mt. Rainier, because of the location of our apartment. So, anyone remember whether the same effect occurs in Portland? Can anyone offer validity to my interpretation, or an alternate explanation?