Sunday, October 30, 2016

Fall Crossing Over North Cascades

Washington State Highway 20 over the North Cascades is closed every winter once the snow begins to get deep. The avalanche hazard is too high and persistent to afford keeping the road open. And to put it simply the road is not a critical link across the state.

Snow arrived by mid October, but has been plowed allowing for continued crossing. It will take a fair bit more snow to load up the avalanche areas. As I live in northern Washington and had some north central ventures, I was able to take advantage of the cleared road and save some miles and time.   

Just west of Washington Pass. The snow cover was causing fog to form

Descending Rainy Pass down Granite Creek provides a view of Crater Mountain. I took this picture as I crossed into my home county, Whatcom County.

Crater Mountain

West ridge of Crater Jack Mountain?

Turning west of northwest having entering the Ruby Creek Valley I had a view of Mount Prophet Challenger.

Mount Prophet Challenger

I had a glimpsed of Ross Lake with cottonwoods like bright beacons in the evergreen landscape.

Then a favorite view north up the upper Skagit Valley with Hozameen rising sharply above the valley's east side.


Then Colonial Peak rising above the confluence of Thunder Creek and the Skagit River.

The picture of Colonial does not do the peak justice. I had to point the camera up to capture its sharp rise above the deep valley. From Thunder Creek to the summit is of 6,300 feet.

The cold water coming out of Diablo Lake below Seattle City Light's Diablo Dam was chilling the air and forming a fog bank on the downstream side of the dam.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Autumn Notes from the Field

Besides the rain which has been much greater than normal (may be the new normal) there are other visuals of fall. I have enjoyed a bit of the fall variety of Washington State the last few days besides simply getting wet.
The cooling weather has brought winter to the high country of the North Cascades. Much of any area above 5,500 feet is already covered in snow.
Fisher Peak, North Cascades
Despite the "Evergreen State" label, there area areas of fall color mostly in the form of yellows.
Cottonwoods, Methow Valley

Cottonwood, aspen and maple, Wenatchee River

Aspen in burned over area, Wenatchee River

Cottonwoods along Wenatchee River
One of the main fall themes of central Washington State are apples.
Apple harvest, Columbia Valley
While some folks flock to the south and sunnier climes, we have plenty of visitors arriving from the north to spend the winter.  

First snow geese on Samish Flats

Most of the harvesting of fields has ended, but farmers still have plenty to do. Drainage is a critical job on the flat lands of western Washington.

Recent drainage ditches, Fir Island, Skagit River Delta 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Notes on Symphoricarpos albus or snowberry

Symphoricarpos albus or snowberry is not a plant that is typically noteworthy in western Washington and across a fair bit of northern Washington simply because it is so common. It is also not particularly showy most of the time. It is sort of the Douglas fir of brush in that it grows and thrives in a wide variety of habitat. Like Douglas fir the plant seems to adjust its growth in accordance to the conditions. It can be short and stubby in harsh sites, legging and open branched in the forest and forms dense thickets in prairie areas.

The one time of year the plant may be showy is October/November. I came across this patch in big leaf maple dominated forest.  

The berries in this patch were thick enough that one could probably pick a quantity; however, they taste rather bad and have a mild toxin. The toxin will break down with cooking, but again the taste would preclude that idea.

Just outside the forest the snowberry had formed a dense thicket.

The thicket as well as the forest at this site is in a place that had formerly been developed for many years and is now drifting to a wild land condition. This particular place has been heavily occupied for at least a few thousand years, so a wild land landscape will be a new era. The snowberry was likely always there and is taking advantage of the opportunity to expand into the former human dominated terrain.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Yes on 732 Carbon Tax

David Roberts has a detailed perspective on the 732-carbon-tax-washington and the political push and pull between two groups that want to move forward with a tax on carbon in Washington State. Roberts treats both sides fairly and explains the difficult situation without really given an opinion.

A tough spot for some enviro groups. 732 may not be perfect, but then most regulations, taxes or laws are not going to make everyone happy. A lesson of politics is setting aside hard principles and getting to compromise. The enviro groups and their allies/partners were trying to get there but ran out of time at least this year. That in itself is a problem, and I suspect the 732 folks simply did not have confidence that the envro groups and allies were going to get there anytime soon.

I am not tribal enough to be on one side or another on this, but am of the view that a carbon tax would be a good thing. Hence, I am voting yes on 732. Maybe 732 will be like the marijuana vote four years ago and will be the surprise winner in Washington State this year.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Point Roberts: International Trip, Palm Trees and Salmon

A trip to and from Point Roberts involves four international border crossings - all to do a job in my home county of Whatcom County.

You know you are in Canada when you see White Spots.

The border line at Point Roberts is typically not very long. Most of the folks crossing are Canadian as Point Roberts is a community where tax payers out number voters by a fair bit. That is much of the Point is owned by Canadian citizens.

Crossing back into Canada at Point Roberts I noted the palm tree adjacent to the sign. There are palms that can tolerate occasional freezes. This one has a jacket around its base in preparation for winter. Southwest BC has a very mild winter climate due to the ocean water and prevailing western storm pattern. The high Coast Range also effectively prevents continental air from reachimg the area most of the time. Southwest BC is Canada's Florida.

The oddity of Point Roberts being in the United States is that it protrudes south of the 49th parallel. One might think Why not give the small appendage to Canada? However, the Point is a hugely valuable United States resource. Salmon swimming towards the Fraser River along the southern route to the river swim through the Strait of Juan de Fuca up along the northwest Washington Coast into Boundary Bay and then hug the shore around Point Roberts.

First Nations caught salmon at this site for thousands of years. Salmon traps became industrialized in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The scale of the industry was huge and valuable.

Fish Trap maps at Lilly Point Park

The lack of regulation as well as habitat damage and destruction diminished salmon numbers. However, the Fraser salmon runs are still very valuable and United States waters off of the Point are still an important fishery.  

Friday, October 21, 2016

King County Leads the Way on Landslide Mapping Efforts

King County has recently come out with an interactive landslide map ( The project is an impressive effort and may be a good model on how to put together landslide mapping. The iMap is interactive and will be a great resource as further planning and risk assessment is undertaken.

One intriguing example:

The LiDAR imagery shows a huge low-angle liquefaction spread slide in the Tolt River valley. Dragovitch and others (2012) suggest the slide may have been seismically induced and possibly associated with the Carnation Fault.

The reports and a web page associated with this King County effort:

Results of a Preliminary Landslide Investigation in King County, Washington

Mapping of Potential Landslide Hazards along the River Corridors of King County, Washington

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Weird Sand Protrusions at Lilly Point, Point Roberts

I have posted before about the north bluff north of Lilly Point at Point Roberts (lilly-point-point-roberts-part-ii-north). I had another bit of a look at this spectacular bluff on my way to figure out a geohazard site further north.

The bluff consists mostly of a thick sequence of alluvial sediment that I have interpreted to be associated with a large pre-last glacial period river system possibly in some sort of delta like setting. The exposure provides a great cross-section of cut and fill structures and other alluvial deposit features.
Channel cut into layered sand with rip up silt/clay clasts overlain by a thicker sequence of silts

On the lower right of the above image there are a few protruding bumps in the sand unit that I first thought were pebbles until I actually looked at them.

I do not know what these things are or have much of an explanation. They do seem to be associated with specific layers within finely bedded sand deposit.

The bluff is eroded by combination of wave erosion and wind erosion.

As is often the case, I did not have time to linger long as I had to proceed to my main purpose and my ventures on this day had required a fair bit of hiking as well as steep bluff slope scambles.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tidal Surge Notes From the Big October Blow

NOAA tide gauges are worth taking a look at during big storms. The combination of low pressure and wind can have a pronounced impact on water levels. Of course throwing in wave action due to wind can have a big impact on how a given storm will impact shorelines.
LaPush on the outer coast recorded a pressure that dipped below 980.

A bit of different scale for Port Townsend shows a pressure drop down to 982 at roughly 4:30 pm yesterday. 

The low pressure coincided with yesterday afternoon's high tide and caused a tide level to be about 1.5 feet higher than the non weather predicted level or a 1.5 foot tide surge.

Add the wind driven waves and water would have been reaching higher up onto the shoreline than normal.

Alas there are a limited number of tide gauges in Puget Sound so one cannot project the same tide surge having taken place everywhere. Nuance of wind and currents can have marked differences in storm surge. Observations I have made post big storms have found that storm surge can be surprisingly variable. Wind can really push water around and pile it up in some inlets with other nearby sites are much less impacted.

I had a view of Alice Bay southeast of Samish Island in Skagit County yesterday. There was a definite storm surge that brought the water up over the low marsh land separating Alice Bay from Samish Bay. The water was significantly higher than what would be a normal high tide. Perhaps high water in the Strait of Juan de Fuca combined with water pushed up by wind from the south elevated the bay a little extra. The high water pushed a few duck hunters off the marsh a bit earlier than perhaps they wanted.  

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Appreciation for GOES West

GOES Satellite
The potential for a 1 in 10 year wind storm has gotten plenty of attention. Perhaps Facebook is enhancing the spread of concern. Hopefully folks will be clever about staying away from trees. The approaching event should cause some appreciation of GOES West. I for one appreciated the weather predictions and shifted my field adventures accordingly.

Dan's Wild Science points out that hurricane winds may be expected. He also provided this image from the GOES West Satellite of the approaching storm.

The spiral from yesterday's storm can be readily made out, but the bigger approaching storm event has not formed yet. The combination of GOES West ( and data and weather models has allowed for providing high wind warnings associated with this event days ahead of the intense low pressure even taking shape. Compared to the Columbus Day Storm in the 1962, this storm will not be unexpected.

The big deal of this storm is that it will bring very strong winds to the more interior sections of western Washington. The fact that it is a ten year or so wind storm suggests that a lot of 10 years worth of growth of tree branches, limbs and tops will all get tested. The positive aspect is that the ground is not yet saturated, so toppling will not be as great a risk as a January wind storm.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fall Wasp Hazard

One of the fall field hazards in western Washington are wasp nests in the ground. I stepped in one while picking my way through a thicket of Nootka rose. I found the rose thorns were not so bothersome once the stinging began. I came out of the encounter with about ten stings with a few that were very sore.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Short Note on the Oso landslide Settlement

I have been quiet on the subject of the Hazel/Oso Landslide as I had been retained to help the attorneys representing some of the families. The settlement of the case (50m-settlement-reached-in-oso-landslide-suit and timberland company for $10 million) came as a bit of last minute thing; the jury had been selected and the trial was to start this week.

My thoughts are with the families. While articulating the geologic perspective of this landslide, I was consistently reminded of those that were killed and hurt and their families and loved ones.

I worked with Emily Brubaker Harris and Guy Michelson of Corr Cronin Michelson Baumgardner Fogg & Moore. They and legal assistants were great to work with. Their level of effort and passion and attention to detail was remarkable.     

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Willamette Meteor - A well traveled erratic

The Willamette Meteor can be described as a triple erratic. The meteor landed in British Columbia or northern Washington or northern Idaho sometime between 20,000 and 14,000 years ago. A meteor should be considered an extreme erratic. A piece of rock that did not form locally; it came from somewhere else. In this case, somewhere else was from very far away.

The next stage of this erratic's wanderings was that it was transported by glacial ice into northern Idaho or possibly northern Washington. It had become a glacial erratic. That trip placed the rock and the ice it was embedded in either in the ice dam holding back glacial Lake Missoula or within ice associated with glacial Lake Columbia.

During one of the larger outburst floods that ice was rafted as an ice berg across eastern Washington, through Wallula Gap, down through the Columbia River Gorge through the Cascades Mountains into a backup area of water in the lower Willamette valley where the ice berg grounded. The lake receded and the ice berg melted leaving the unusual rock to be be contemplated by future people.

The rock ultimately ended up on a couple more voyages. First a few miles in the Willamette valley via a local that tried to claim the meteor as his own and then later to New York after it was sold to the natural History Museum.

The story can be found on the link above and shout out to retosterricolas for calling it to my attention in his post.