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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.