Olympic Rain Shadow Strait of Juan de Fuca at sunset.

In the Olympic Rain Shadow

I have been hearing about the Olympic Rain Shadow for about fifteen years. The Olympic Mountains get lots of rain, so much rain that I could never consider living there. Not willing to live there also holds true for Seattle, Tacoma, and almost all of western Washington. As a side note even though I am grouping Seattle, Tacoma, and nearly all of western Washington with the Olympic Mountains, I realize that the Olympic Mountains get way more rain than most of western Washington.

National Park Map showing the area of the Olympic rain shadow. The green area is very wet and the yellow is much dryer.
National Park Map showing the area of the Olympic rain shadow. The green area is very wet and the yellow is much dryer.

More Rain than Sitka

My daughter used to live in Sitka Alaska and we visited often. Seattle doesn’t get a lot of rain compared to Sitka. In Sitka, the standard footwear is called Sitka sneakers. They are rubber boots. Sitka isn’t in a rain shadow of any sort. Something is always falling from the sky. In Sitka, they don’t get lots of snow, but buckets of rain.

Average rainfall totals in the Hoh rainforest.
Average rainfall totals in the Hoh rainforest. We timed our visit at the driest time of year. This same gauge shows that November, December, and January average more than twenty inches per month. So far the Hoh rainforest when we took this picture was seventy inches. The annual total here is a little less than half the rainfall total of other parts of the park.

Olympic Rain Shadow

Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park gets more rain than Sitka, lots more rain than Sitka. Typically on Mount Olympus, you have rain or snow. The only reason that Mount Olympus isn’t completely snow-capped year-round is that the rain melts the snow. I have seen different rainfall totals for Mount Olympus that easily exceed 200 inches a year. The north side of Mount Olympus has active (slowly moving downhill) glaciers.

National Park map showing rainfall totals near Olympic National Park. The areas to the northwest of Mount Olympus are in the Olympic Rain Shadow.
National Park map showing rainfall totals near Olympic National Park. The areas to the northeast of Mount Olympus are in the Olympic rain shadow. On this map, Port Angeles is at 30 inches per year and Sequim is less than 20 inches per year.

Olympic National Park shields areas to the east of Olympic National Park from the rain. Areas to the west of Olympic National Park get lots of rain. The center of the Olympic rain shadow is to the northeast of Sequim Washington.

Sequim Washington

In Sequim Washington, the annual rainfall total is less than twenty inches a year. The area most protected from serious rainfall extends from the northwest part of Olympic National Park all the way to and including parts of Whidbey Island. As you move further away from Sequim the cities of Port Townsend, and Port Angeles, get about twenty-five inches of rain a year.

 Google Terrain Map of Whidbey Island Port Townsend and Sequim. Northeast of Sequim at Port Williams is the driest location in the Olympic Rain Shadow.
Google Terrain Map of Whidbey Island Port Townsend and Sequim. Northeast of Sequim at Port Williams is the driest location (on land) in the Olympic Rain Shadow. On Whidbey Island, they even call the area near Fort Casey the sunny side of the island.

On Whidbey Island, the area that gets the least amount of rain is Fort Casey. As you may recall we embarked on our ferry to cross the Puget Sound at Fort Casey arriving in Port Townsend. Here is a link to these articles. Our RV Floats and Port Townsend

The Blue Hole

One of the misconceptions associated with the Olympic rain shadow is that it is merely overcast. Of course, that can happen but for many days in Sequim, when it is dreary and rainy in Seattle there is a clear blue sky in Sequim. As a disclaimer, Sequim gets plenty of clouds, but it isn’t comparable to Arizona where they get more than two hundred bright sunny days per year. Seattle gets about 60-80 sunny days per year. Long-term data for Sequim is harder to get but seems to be around 120 sunny days per year. Frequently when Seattle is overcast, Sequim will be partly cloudy.

The best I can tell is that on the far shore of the Strait Juan de Fuca we are looking at Victoria Canada.
The best I can tell is that from this viewpoint looking across the water, on the far shore of the Strait Juan de Fuca, we are looking at Victoria Canada.

Not a Banana Belt

I have often heard that the Olympic rain shadow creates a banana belt. To me, this means that it is also a warm area. This is not true, at least it is not true to my standards. The Olympic rain shadow does not change the temperature. Cold is bad enough, cold and wet is horrible. The temperatures in the Olympic rain shadow are similar to the rest of western Washington. Yes, it snows, not often, but it still snows and freezes every winter. Snow accumulation doesn’t last long it is usually melted by more rain.

Beach viewed from the cliffs at Dungeness Recreation Area.
Beach viewed from the cliffs at Dungeness Recreation Area.

Temperature

Overall the temperatures in the summer here rarely exceed 80 degrees. Winter temperatures are consistently between 30 and 50 with little daytime change. Winter is also more consistently cloudy. Spring arrives early but can be very windy. In Olympic National Park the area closest to Port Angeles is called Hurricane Ridge because of the wind.

Our RV at Dungeness Recreation Area.
Our RV at Dungeness Recreation Area.

Our visit

The rain, even the rain shadow, had very little influence on our visit. We didn’t have any rain because we visited during the peak of the dry season. We timed our visit to the Olympic Penisula at the driest time of year. Our visit was focused on Olympic National Park and we wanted to spend lots of time in the park. If it was raining, then our visit would have been very different. We wanted and got to see the park without the rain even though that is not the normal condition. In September the park and the entire Olympic Penisula get very little rain. After crossing the ferry from Whidbey Island to Port Townsend we spent a week exploring the Port Townsend area. After moving from our camp south of Port Townsend we moved as close as I could get to the center of the rain shadow.

Sunset picture over the Strait Juan de Fuca. We watch carefully for a green flash but didn't see one nor did we capture one with the camera.
Sunset picture over the Strait Juan de Fuca. We watched carefully for a green flash but didn’t see one nor did we capture one with the camera.

Dungeness

After that staying in Port Townsend we moved to a county park north of Sequim overlooking the Strait Juan de Fuca. Parking our RV at the Dungeness Recreation Area was challenging but not too hard. There were plenty of trees to maneuver around. The trees weren’t a surprise. Even though we were at the center of the rain shadow, they get plenty of moisture for the trees.

This might be a picture of the world-famous Spotted Owl. We were behind our RV and only saw him because he was flying and landed near us.
This might be a picture of the world-famous Spotted Owl. We were behind our RV and only saw him because he was flying and landed near us.

I am not anticipating a return visit to the Olympic Penisula soon, but if that happens I have a couple of spots picked out that will have plenty of sunshine. At our site, we had plenty of shade and almost no sun.

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge

We camped at Dungeness Recreation Area. It is a very nice campground and shares the same driveway as the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. Dungeness Recreation Area includes the campground. The wildlife refuge was a very easy walk from our campsite. I was very surprised that the wildlife refuge (federal property) was very controlled access including a host who was there to take payment. I have been to National Parks that allowed unpaid visits — not this refuge. Camping at the recreation area does not include access to the wildlife refuge.

There was still plenty of green on the forest floor at Dungeness Recreation Area. Even though this location is in the Olympic rain shadow they still get plenty of moisture both from rain and from humidity from the ocean.
There was still plenty of green on the forest floor at Dungeness Recreation Area. Even though this location is in the Olympic rain shadow they still get plenty of moisture both from rain and from humidity from the ocean.

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is mostly along the beach below the bluff and includes a sand bar that goes five miles out to the New Dungeness Lighthouse. We took a long walk (hike) along the sand bar for what we thought would be about halfway to the lighthouse. After an hour of nonstop walking, we weren’t even close.

One of the surprising things while camping at the Dungeness Recreation Area, is that along the coastline it was cold every day. Mostly because of the shade and light wind off the water. Sequim, only a few miles inland was at least ten degrees warmer.

The coastline of the Strait Juan de Fuca from the cliff side next to our campsite at Dungeness Recreation Area.
The coastline of the Strait Juan de Fuca from the cliff side next to our campsite at Dungeness Recreation Area.

While at Dungeness we visited Olympic National Park, Hurrican Ridge, and Cresent Lake. These locations will be the subject of our next posts. In the summer, assuming it is not raining, they are wonderful.

Our visit to Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge

Lake Crescent

Hoh Rain Forest

Kalaloch Beach

Quinault Rainforest and Kestner Homestead

Other Links

Bob’s Rain Shadow Page

9 thoughts on “In the Olympic Rain Shadow”

    1. It is remote, but yet to us it seemed connected.

      We took the Coupeville to Port Townsend ferry to get to the Olympic Penisula. Once at Port Townsend, you can drive all the way to San Diego without taking a ferry, but if you want to go to Seattle you either drive to Tacoma and then back north to Seattle or you can drive to Brainbridge and then take a ferry to Seattle.

      The best way to find a ferry is to zoom in on a Google map while looking at the water. The ferry routes are dashed blue lines and all have a number that corresponds with the roads they connect.

      Scott

  1. We have fulltime RV friends who just bought some property in Sequim and are in the process of building a house. It’s certainly a gorgeous area, and the weather is better than many places up there, but I think it would still be a bit too much rain and gray for me. I look forward to your upcoming posts about all these places!

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  4. Beautiful area. We have gone up the coast and stayed out side of Port Angeles. It is a long way to get to Seattle though since we didn’t want to take any ferries. Would like to spend time on the west area more and explore the rain forest. Cool area.

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