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Sunshine Analysis – Olympic Rain Shadow vs. Downtown Seattle
Our fourth monthly study examines the month of
January, 2011 and sunshine data from three different
weather stations, one located in Sequim, one in Port Angeles,
and one in Seattle. This January saw a uniquely dreary combination of cloudy dry days and warm,
wet storms. Most precipitation fell as rain even at high elevation, with a
dramatic lack of new snow accumulation in the mountains. With a persistent
ridge of high pressure diverting the passage of strong storms to the north and south of
our area, the rain shadow engine was a bit short of fuel. Still rain shadow
towns were brighter than urban Seattle, which was very dark, with 7 dreary days
and 16 cloudy days.
Port Angeles and Sequim were quite similar in terms
of overall sunshine and sunny days this month, with Sequim recording 24% more
and Port Angeles 16% more sunshine than downtown Seattle.
What was especially interesting about this month,
was the impact the weak weather pattern had on Sequim's overall sunlight.
Sequim's overall sunlight was lower than that recorded in either November or
December, and was only 89% of the month of December, during a period of
increasing incident solar radiation.
Sequim was 1.24 times as
bright as Seattle; Port Angeles was 1.16 times as bright as Seattle.
Sequim and Port Angeles
recorded an average of about 1/2 hour of bright sun per day, compared to
only 15 minutes per day in Seattle.
Port Angeles recorded 6
sunny days, Sequim recorded 4 mostly
sunny days, while Seattle recorded none.
The Sequim site recorded 4
mostly sunny days, to Seattle's 0 mostly sunny days. Seattle had 7 dreary days,
compared to only 3 in Sequim, and 3 in Port Angeles.
Partly Sunny Days
Mostly Sunny Days
On average for the month, the
Sequim site had .55 hours of clear sunny skies per day, where as Seattle had
zero hours. The Port Angeles site recorded .58 hours of clear sunny skies per
day on average. In terms of pure solar radiation, the Sequim site for the month
recorded 1.24 times as much overall solar radiation as Seattle, and 1.21 times as much as the Port Angeles site.
Hours per Day Clear Sunny
Total Solar Radiation (Relative Multiplier)
In an atypically warm and cloudy winter month, rain
shadow areas still recorded significantly more light than the urban Seattle area.
The inactive weather pattern dramatically
negatively impacted sunshine and sunny days in Sequim.
The same weather pattern that produces snow in
the Cascades/Olympics produces sunshine in Sequim.
are feeling you are living in a dreary neighborhood in the eastern Puget
Sound or Cascade foothills, take a road trip to the Olympic rain shadow, and
you will likely see *a lot* more light during the darker months and stormy
Full month radiation chart
This study was conducted by examining incident solar radiation. Solar radiation is measured in watts per square meter. This
measurement is directly related to illuminance, a measure of how much light
falls on a given area.
We used data
from three different weather stations.
The first station, the Sequim station,
is located on the roof of a single story home on Jamestown Beach Rd,
in Sequim, directly on the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This location
may be very close to the epicenter of the Olympic Rain Shadow. As with many
locations on the Dungeness plain in Sequim, this one is not shaded by tall
trees, nor does it have any hills affecting its exposure. When the sun rises in
the morning, it clears the horizon almost immediately as the areas to the south
and east are open water. When the sun sets in the evening, it sets to the west,
over the Dungeness plain, so stays above the horizon for quite some time. The
Sequim location uses a Davis Instruments Vantage Pro 2 with optional solar
sensor. This station measures solar radiation every 2 minutes and records the
average over 10 minutes.
The second station is in downtown Port Angeles, at
Lincoln High School. The school's Davis Instruments Vantage Pro2 Plus sensors
are mounted on the rooftop of the high school, about a mile southwest of
ferry dock to Victoria B.C. at an elevation of about 200 feet. There is excellent
exposure clockwise from northeast to southwest and good exposure for the other
directions. The sensors record solar radiation every five minutes. Special
thanks to Peter Alexander, his math classes, and
for the data and support..
The third station is atop the Atmospheric Sciences Department building of the University
of Washington, in the University District of Seattle. This seven story building
is not in the classical Olympic Rain Shadow area, but is still slightly shadowed
by the Olympics. Given that the sensor is located atop a tall building, this
location has ideal exposure and receives maximum solar radiation. This station records solar radiation
every minute. Data was retrieved by downloading public information from the
University of Washington’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences website.
For purposes of this study, skies were defined as follows:
“Clear Sunny” sensors record at least 60% of the maximum radiation possible
for that day of that year
“Bright” sensors record between 20% and 60% of the maximum radiation for
that day of that year
“Gray” sensors record between 50 w/m^2 and 20% of the maximum radiation
for that day of that year
“Dark Gray” sensors record between 1 and 49 w/m^2
Days were categorized as follows:
"Mostly Sunny Day" over ½ the day had at least “bright” skies, with at
least 22% of daylight hours “clear sunny”.
"Partly Sunny Day" over ½ the day had at least “bright” skies, but less
than 22% of daylight hours “clear sunny”.
"Overcast Day" over ½ the day had gray or dark gray skies, but at least
22% of daylight hours “gray”.
"Dreary Day" daylight hours predominately dark gray, with less then
22% of daylight hours “gray”.
aggregated, analyzed, and graphed using Microsoft Excel.