Sunday, January 19, 2020

Adiabatic Heating and The Bear Who Stole the Chinook

A few messages suggested a bit more background on Snow Eater Wind would be useful. If there is a barometric pressure gradient across the mountains air will flow over the mountains and then descend down the other side. The air is a gas and will follow what is termed the Ideal gas law.  The simple equation is PV = NRT, where P = pressure, V = volume, N = amount of gas (moles), R = gas constant (a number value with an interesting history) and T = Temperature. Hence, if the pressure of the air is increased air will become warmer and if pressure decreases the air will become cooler; other aspects of the equation remaining equal and the gas behaves ideally. Of course there is more to this and that is why we have meteorologists.

Meteorologists use a term called dry adiabatic lapse rate and moist adiabatic lapse rate and  for how temperature will change within an air mass. When an air mass descends it will warm because the pressure is increasing. As an air mass descends it will warm at the dry adiabatic lapse rate which is approximately 5.5 degrees F for every 1,000 feet the air descends.

The strong east winds that reached Bellingham and Skagit County as well as the lower west slopes of the Cascade Range to the south were the result of a high pressure mound of air east of the Cascades with a low pressure off the coast of Washington. The high pressure air flowed towards the low pressure and as it descended it warmed at the dry adiabatic lapse rate. Even if the original air mass pulled over the mountains may have been cold, the increase pressure would cause it to warm substantially. The roughly 7,000-foot drop over the North Cascades Range would produce a warming of the descending air mass of 38.5 degrees F. So an air mass of say 10 degrees F would warm to 48 degrees F, about the temperature spike Bellingham had for a few hours last Wednesday evening.

Technically this is not a Chinook wind per meteorology, but the results are very similar and I would note the term Chinook wind is used more broadly by some and I do not know if the type of wind that descends east from the Cascades has been given a name.

Billy and I experienced our share of Chinook winds and he alerted me to this song by Jack Gladstone, a Blackfoot and former U of W Husky.       

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Snow Eater Wind Comes to Northwest Washington

Down slope winds off of mountain ranges can have a pronounced impact on temperature. Long cold spells in central and eastern Washington will come to abrupt ends when storm systems from the west are strong enough to push across the Cascade Range. The descending air will scour out the pool of cold air but also the descending air warms rapidly causing a sharp jump in temperature. The wind is locally called a Chinook and the term is used widely in the interior northwest U.S. out to Montana and the plains of Alberta.

A similar phenomena took place last night in the lowlands of western Washington - only the wind direction was reversed. A low pressure off the coast to the west created a sharp pressure gradient from east to west across the Cascade Range. The result was a sharp temperature increase from the descending air.         


Bellingham temperature plot

In Bellingham the temperature jumped about 20 degrees in minutes. The temperature spike lasted for a few hours and when the descending winds eased, the temperature returned the low 20s.

A similar effect took place in the Skagit lowlands that I experienced first hand. I had to venture out to pick up Lisa at the train station in Mount Vernon. The wind was very hard from the east; high enough to cause some slipping on the icy roads as the car was pushed about, and formed numerous speed bumps of snow drifts. But on the return the temperature jumped from the low 30s to the mid 50s in less than 5 minutes.

The Blackfeet Indians called these events snow eaters. Indeed much of the snow was eaten away down from its deep layer by the warmish and dry wind before the temperature lowered to the 30s and the slow wet melt that has persisted all day. 


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Snow Day on Samish

A snow shower band stayed in place over a swath of northwest Washington last evening leading to a snow day. Mid day I took a walk-about on the east end of Samish Island. 

Lummi Peak is the high point of Lummi Island to the northwest 

Chuckanut Mountain to the northeast with Samish Bay in the foreground

Blanchard Mountain with Samish Bay in the foreground

On USGS topographic maps Blanchard Mountain is lumped together with Chuckanut Mountian. Locally the term Blanchard Mountain is used for the southern summit area. The name is derived from the small village of Blanchard at the base of the mountain. Geologically the two mountains are markedly different with the northern Chuckanut Mountain underlain by Chuckanut Formation sedimentary rocks of Eocene age. Blanchard is underlain by metamorphic rocks of Jurassic age.

Lyman Hill to the southeast

Lyman Hill is 2,000 feet higher than the highest point on Chuckanut Mountain. Perhaps it seems hill like as to the main portions of the North Cascade Range is further to the east behind the "hill".

Alice Bay viewed from Scott Point at the east end of Samish Isalnd

The road towards home.

The road to Samish Island looking south from the island across the flats

Samish Island is an island that can be driven to. The island was separated from the mainland by tide flats prior to dikes being built to create farm land.
The road heading up onto the island

It was sort of a black and white day - mot much color with the snow and overcast. One bright spot was this Ixoreus naevius (varied thrush) on a small native cherry in the forest. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Betula papyrifera, Argilus anius and Temperature

A field venture a few days before the current cold spell took me through a wetlands restoration project, past thickets of Nootka rose, and an effort to push back on invasive canary reed grass.  


One challenge of environment restoration plantings is keeping the rodent and deep nibblers at bay; hence, the blue plastic tubes and fencing around plantings. 

The forest stand I passed through was a very mixed stand. This tree is a tree that has a limited range in Washington State, but is a common tree in the northwest Puget lowlands.



The bark pattern of this species in northwest Washington is often dark and can be mixed up with wild cherry, another local native tree. However, some do develop the more classic white bark. There is some variability in the species that early fur trappers noted - west of the Rocky Mountains the birch do not have the same quality of bark for the building of canoes, a bit of a disappointment for the river and lake traveling that fur traders relied on.


In Washington State, Betula papyrifera is limited to the northern reaches of the Puget lowlands in western Washington and far northern and eastern edges of the state.

Distribution of Paper Birch from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )


The distribution of the species limiting factor is likely strongly associated with Argilus anius (bronze birch borer). Muilenburg and Herms (2012) provide an overview of the relationship of the borer and birch trees. Temperature plays a partial role. Deep freezes may slow the maturation of the borer. 

In northwest Washington, the paper birch is limited mostly to norther Puget lowlands. In the Birch Bay and Drayton Harbor area, the tree is one of the predominant species in the forest. These areas are cooler in the summer and perhaps the occasional bast of arctic air out the Fraser River canyon like today puts a bit of a check on the borer. Today, was a good example. While snow arrived in the Seattle area, the temperature in Seattle as I write this is 30 F, while the temperature at Birch Bay is 15 F. In addition, the northwest portion of the state is substantially cooler in the summer and thus a bit less stress for these cool weather wet ground trees. 



Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Happy New Year Starbuck, WA

On the hillside listing to https://www.inalandscape.org/ (Picture from Happy New Year from IN A LANDSCAPE). I was on the hillside for part of the concert.

A highlight this past year was returning to Starbuck, Washington to listen and watch and an outdoor classical piano concert (starbuck-in-landscape). I passed through Starbuck several times this summer and a return trip for the show was well worth it. While a classical concert is a rare event in Starbuck, the cafe in the former drugstore is always worth a stop.

Rebecca's Lodge, Starbuck, WA

IN A LANDSCAPE sent a New Year Greeting to the Starbuck concert attendees. I enjoyed seeing the poem about the Tucannon River, the river that flows through the town.


A trip to the Tucannon when I young sparked some of my early interest in geology. A sory for another day.

Happy New Year.    

Monday, December 30, 2019

Brinnon Elk

In hunting down some pictures from a past venture,I came across some elk pictures from a few summers ago. 


The elk were loitering around the town of Brinnon. Brinnon is located along the west side of Hood Canal on the east side of the Olympic Range. The town is at the delta of the Dosewallips River. The river is only about 22 miles long, but its source area is over 6,000 feet in elevation. The river forms a deep steep-sided mountain valley just above the town providing excellent Elk habitat. The town itself also provides habitat. The bulk of the herd was favoring the fire station on the day of my visit.





Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Waterville vs Farmington for Highest Incorporated Town

Investigating the highest incorporated town claim (Waterville), I set up a DEM of Washington state with Waterville's elevation and above set as gray and areas below Waterville's elevation as green.  

Waterville is marked with the small red star

The result shows that there is a lot of area in Washington State that is higher than Waterville. Much of the higher ground is mountainous and the mountains are mostly steep and rugged. Another factor is that Washington State does not have any incorporated ski resort towns despite, or perhaps because of, the large amount of snow fall (Mount Baker Ski area holds the world record annual snowfall).

The north central portion of the state also is mountainous with deep valleys, but also has areas of high country that are moderately sloped with numerous county roads as well as State and US highways crossing the high country. The area has been (and some hope will be) a ore mining with some mine sites at over 5,000 feet in elevation. Indeed there are a numerous town sites in this area from the long mining history.

Several of these town sites exceed Waterville's elevation, but none of them are incorporated. Molson, near the Canadian border is over 1,000 feet higher than Waterville; Molson is at an elevation of 3,718 feet. However, Molson was a short lived incorporated town associated with a mining boom in the area and is now a ghost town. Several buildings remain as well as an open air outdoor museum. Wauconda, is another unincorporated ghost town that is higher than Waterville. Wauconda does have a post office that covers the large geographic area around the former town, but there really is not much to call a town anymore.

The southeast corner of the state consists of the Blue Mountains another area of elevation exceeding Waterville. The Blues in Washington State are a high plateau rising up a steep western slope east of Walla Walla with very deep and very steep river valleys. However, the back, eastern part of the Blues has a broad area of high country with fewer deep canyons. Anatone is a small town with a post office in the wheat growing area and comes in well above Waterville. Anatone is at 3,571 feet. However, Anatone is not incorporated.

Note on the DEM above there is a very narrow and discontinuous band of higher ground on the very eastern edge of the state. This area is the highest area of the rolling hills of the Palouse that extends into Idaho. Exploring that band of ground on the eastern edge of state, I came across the Town of Farmington. Farmington is incorporated and the town notes on its home page that it is at an elevation of 2,626 feet. That is higher than the 2,622 feet elevation that Waterville has on its city page. Farmington does not make any claims about being the highest incorporated town - perhaps a missed tourist opportunity.

The elevations cited by both Waterville and Farmington are from the USGS topographic maps bench marks assigned to the towns. The towns are not flat. Waterville has a spot elevation on the map on the north edge of town at 2,645 feet. And the southeast corner of the incorporation boundary is just short of the 2,720-foot contour. Farmington's northeast boundary touches the 2,700-foot contour.

If one relies only on the topo map assigned elevation, Farmington is the highest incorporated town in Washington State. That said, Waterville has more area above the elevation of Farmington and its highest point is above Farmington's high point. That said there are parts of Waterville that are lower than the lowest point in Farmington. Perhaps it could be called a tie?