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February 2011 Sunshine Analysis – Olympic Rain Shadow vs. Downtown Seattle

Our fifth monthly study examines the month of February, 2011 and sunshine data from three different weather stations, one located in Sequim, one in Port Angeles, and one in Seattle. February is a month of rapidly increasing solar radiation; it is also typically a transition month from more winter-like weather to more spring like weather. This February started out in the same pattern as January 2011, which was characterized by weak, warm weather systems, and generally cloudy/dreary weather. Typical to Februaries, the sun broke through on the 8th, and next 14 days included 7 bright sunny days and 5 partly sunny days at the Sequim location. The high pressure opened the gates to an arctic air mass during the end of the month, with record cold temperatures and accumulating snow in Sequim and Port Angeles.

The unusual weather pattern still produced a much brighter month than January, with 20 mostly or partly sunny days in Sequim, vs. only 11 in January. Port Angeles saw 16 days of at least partial sunshine, while Seattle only experienced 13. Sequim outpaced both Seattle and Port Angeles dramatically this month with 10 clear days, vs. only 4 in Port Angeles and 7 in Seattle.

Study Highlights:

  • Sequim was 1.21 times as bright as Seattle; Port Angeles was 1.05 times as bright as Seattle.

  • Sequim saw an average of 1.36 hours of bright sun per day, compared to .97 hours/day in Port Angeles, and 1.06 hours/day in Seattle.

  • Sequim recorded 10 mostly sunny days, while Port Angeles recorded only 4.

Detailed Study Findings

The Sequim site recorded 10 mostly sunny days, to Seattle's 7 mostly sunny days. Seattle had 3 dreary days, compared to 4 in Sequim, and none in Port Angeles.

  Dreary Days Cloudy Days Partly Sunny Days Mostly Sunny Days
Sequim 4 4 10 10
Port Angeles 0 12 12 4
Seattle 3 12 6 7


On average for the month, the Sequim site had 1.36 hours of clear sunny skies per day, where as Seattle had .1.06 hours. The Port Angeles site recorded .97 hours of clear sunny skies per day on average. In terms of pure solar radiation, the Sequim site for the month recorded 1.21 times as much overall solar radiation as Seattle, and 1.15 times as much as the Port Angeles site.

  Hours per Day Clear Sunny Total Solar Radiation (Relative Multiplier)
Sequim 1.36 1.21
Port Angeles .97 1.05
Seattle 1.06 1.00


Study Conclusion

  • In an an atypical transition month with a bit of spring and a bit of winter weather, rain shadow areas still recorded significantly more light than the urban Seattle area.

  • Sequim saw a major jump in sunny days vis-a-vis November, December, and January, with 10, in a short month of only 28 days!

  • If you 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 periods.


Full month solar radiation chart

Study Methodology

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 Lincoln High School 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”.

Data was aggregated, analyzed, and graphed using Microsoft Excel.


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